Food Security

Looking at food labels – what do they really mean?

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Grain Farmers of Ontario

Food labels can be vitally important if people have diagnosed dietary needs. However, marketing labels can add a “perceived value” and be misleading at times, so it pays to do a little research when making food choices.

“Natural” meat
All meat is natural since it comes from animals and is not manufactured. The only meat that can legally be labelled as “natural” is meat from animals raised without ANY human intervention of any kind, like wild game. Companies can, however, use the term “natural” to describe flavour.

Raised without antibiotics
Meat with a “Raised without antibiotics” label comes from animals that have not received any antibiotics at any time in their lives.

Gluten is a natural protein found in wheat, barley, rye, triticale, and foods made with these grains. Products labelled “gluten-free” are not any healthier; they are just made with ingredients that don’t include gluten—which is particularly important for the one per cent of Canadians with celiac disease, or those with gluten sensitivities.

Sometimes a product will be labelled as being “free” of something, like being gluten-free or GMO-free. However, sometimes that product doesn’t actually contain gluten in the first place, or GMO versions of that product don’t actually exist. These are called absence labels, and are used as a marketing tool to make one product look superior to another. 

Did you know?

In Canada, all chickens are raised without added hormones, so chicken products labelled “raised without the use of added hormones” are no different than chicken products without that label.

Grain Farmers of Ontario

Plant-based proteins

Plant-based proteins are becoming increasingly popular, as people look for alternative protein sources in their diets, or wish to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, which means eating fewer or no animal products at all. And food producers are responding accordingly with products like plant-based burgers and “chik’n” strips made from pea, bean, or soy proteins, egg substitutes made from mung bean, and milk-style beverages made using oats, soy or nuts like almonds or cashews. Some producers and restaurants are offering “blended” products that contain a mixture of plant and meat proteins.

Another emerging field is cellular agriculture. This occurs where researchers are producing meat and dairy products in laboratories using only animal cells instead of the animals themselves, using tissue engineering technology that is used in regenerative medicine.