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Organic? Free range? Don’t believe everything you read

Food marketing is just like car or major appliance marketing: you need to shop informed and arrive with a healthy dose of skepticism. The following is a demystifying primer on a few key words found in the grocery aisle that should help you shop informed:

I generally do not buy organic because the word can have so many meanings. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has Organic Products Regulations which requires that anyone who is going to certify a product as organic first be accredited by them. Once certified the product gets a logo. However, it is quite common to find foods with other logos certifying them as organic. You have no way of knowing how accurate their information is and what their standards are without searching the Internet first. Given the confusion, I figure if I buy from the farmer I can ask about how things are raised, I can reduce my pesticide load and I can avoid the higher prices that come with buying organic.

Free-Range, Free-Run Chicken or Eggs
These words seem pretty meaningless to farmers and the CFIA. There is no regulatory body checking these terms and they are more about the conditions the birds and the eggs are produced under rather than about any nutritional or health value. Most chickens raised in Canada have free-run of a large barn with access to water and food all day. A free range chicken may also have access to an open barn door half an hour a day. As for the eggs, a large barn with hundreds of egg-laying hens roaming freely is a recipe for disaster. Only farmers with relatively small flocks of hens can live up to that lovely image of farm children going out to gather the days fresh eggs.
Light or Lite
The proper spelling is light and to Health Canada this means a food is 25 per cent lighter in calories, fat, sodium (salt) or sugar than the original. Lite could mean lite-tasting, lite-coloured, lighter packaging or whatever.

According to the CFIA, foods labeled natural cannot have any vitamins, minerals, artificial flavours or food additives added to it. So natural is regulated and you may not see it much, what you will see is naturally raised or natures way as these are unregulated and their meaning is open to the manufacturers interpretation.

Made or Produced In Canada

Who among us was not surprised to discover recently that made or produced in Canada could be anything but! The federal government jumped on this issue right away and now Product of Canada has to mean all, or virtually all, major ingredients, processing, and labour used to make the food product are Canadian. However there still remains: Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients, Prepared in Canada and Processed in Canada. Some people may see this as meaning the same as Produced in Canada but that would be a misconception.

Spending more for foods labeled with some of these words may be foolish. Check your reactions and the labels when you see these words and make sure you are getting what you want.

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