When you see a claim or label on a product, what does it mean and which are actually regulated?

Which claims are worth extra money? Animal Welfare Approved’s “Labeling for Dummies” and the USDA’s “What is Organic” brochures have a lot to say on this topic. Here, we will discuss some voluntary labels you might see on beef, chicken, fish or eggs. It’s up to you to decide what’s important to you based on your preferences, beliefs and budget.

Possibly worth it

  • Free range or free roaming — Producers must demonstrate to the agency that the animal or flock has access to the outside. It also means that there is unlimited access to food and fresh water. This term is regulated for poultry.
  • Cage free — May not be a verified or audited claim, but it should mean the flock was able to freely roam a building, room or enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water.
  • Grass-fed — This is a regulated term and means that the animal receives a majority of its nutrients from grass. This does not mean the animal is necessarily USDA organically raised, and does not limit the use of antibiotics, hormones or pesticides. 
  • No antibiotics/no antibiotics added — These terms may be used if animals were raised without use of antibiotics.

Not worth it

These are mostly marketing terms.

  • Chemical-free and no chemicals added — These terms are not allowed to be used. 
  • No hormones added (poultry and pork) – Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry, so this label cannot be used unless it is followed by this statement: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”
  • Pasture-raised — This is not a regulated term due to the number of variables and different agricultural systems.
  • Pesticide-free — This has no legal or regulated definition.
  • Vegetarian-fed — This is not a regulated term. While this often appears on poultry and eggs, it is important to note that chickens are naturally omnivores and frequently eat insects. Therefore, a truly vegetarian diet must be supplemented to provide them with a required amino acid. 

The bottom line

Be a smart shopper and don’t fall for label lingo that may mean nothing more than a higher cost.

Talk to Leah

Leah McGrath is the corporate dietitian for Ingles Markets. Follow her @InglesDietitian. Contact her at, 800-334-4936 or at

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