When you're scanning a restaurant menu or walking the grocery store aisles, do you know what many of the food terms really mean? What designates "local," and what is the difference between organic and non-organic?
These terms and others are becoming staples on menus and in stores - and, until now, few have been clearly defined.
Just in time for that special Valentine's Day meal, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance wants to help you learn more about your choices and where your food comes from. Whether you're dining out or grocery shopping, knowing some key food terms can help you navigate the menu and the supermarket. Here are common food-related terms you're sure to see at restaurants or supermarkets.
Organic: The main difference between organic and non-organically grown foods is the production method - those who raise organically-grown food must follow a strict set of guidelines outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA organic label indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Like many other value-added products, organic food can be more expensive because, in some cases, it costs more to produce. For example, organically-raised pigs must be fed only organic feed produced without synthetic pesticides, and may not be given antibiotics. A common misconception is that the increased cost of organic food relates directly to its superior nutritional value, which is unproven.
Another common misconception about organic food production involves pesticide and fertilizer use. Organic farmers can choose from organic certified pesticides and fungicides, which are outlined by the USDA Certified Organic program. They can also use organic matter (livestock manure) for fertilizer.
Local: Local food is grown (or raised) and harvested close to where it is sold. It's distributed a much shorter distance than is common in the conventional global industrial food system, which sustains our nation and world. Supporting local businesses is great - from the mom-and-pop hardware store to local farms and ranches. Did you know 95 percent of U.S. farms are family-owned? Our nation needs farms of all sizes and locations to help grow enough food for our growing population, especially during the winter months when some areas are simply too cold to grow crops.
Hormone-free: Hormones occur naturally in all farm animals, just as they do in humans - it's a natural part of life, so no beef, pork, poultry or dairy products are "hormone-free." When it comes to poultry raised in America, no hormones are ever used to promote growth, a common misconception. Hormones are used in farm animals under the guidance of veterinarians and animal nutritionists and only given in targeted ways - in very low doses and at particular times in the animal's life. Over the past several decades they've been studied heavily. Hormones continue to be approved for use in this country and many others because studies have shown they pose no risk to consumers.
"America's farmers and ranchers provide a variety of food, grown and raised in different ways to appeal to consumer choices. I want to make sure that people are having conversations about food and know where their food comes from," said Katie Pratt, an Illinois farm mom and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance spokesperson. "There are many options out there for people, so knowing these key terms and how their food is grown and raised is really important when making decisions - either at a restaurant or when buying food for your family in stores."
For more information about food production and the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, visit FoodDialogues.com.