What’s In A Name? Understanding Food Labels

Whether consumer or producer driven, terms or labels are a major part of navigating today’s food systems. Part of the Societal Impact on Food Systems course taught by Ruth MacDonald, professor and chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and Cheryll Reitmeier, professor and associate chair of food science and human nutrition, is understanding terminology used to describe food. The following examples were used in the class last spring.

Genetic modification – Changing the genes of an organism by insertion or deletion, usually for some sort of possible benefit to the survival of the organism.

Natural – Products labeled “natural” cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative or any other articial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example). All fresh meat qualifies as “natural.” All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term “natural.” USDA does not regulate use of the term “natural.” (Source: USDA)

Organic – Organic production is a system that is managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act and regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations to respond to site-specic conditions by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. The National Organic Program develops, implements and administers national production, handling and labeling standards. (Source: USDA)

Local – Obtaining food from within some set distance of one’s location. Some define as anything that can be transported to the location in one day or less.

Nutraceutical – Created from the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical” meaning a food (or a supplement) that may provide medical or health benets, including the prevention and/or treatment of a disease (Source: American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists)

Whole food – Loosely defined as a food which has undergone as little processing as possible, or that is in as close to a natural state as possible.