Label labyrinth: Decoding the messages on food packaging

Shopping for groceries can be overwhelming. Trying to balance a budget and nutrition while deciphering food labels challenges even the most experienced supermarket sojourner. To help you sort through all the jargon, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture has some clues for solving the mystery of buying nutritious, affordable food for your family.

1. Poultry and pork

Poultry and pork products labeled “raised without added hormones,” aren’t any different from other poultry and pork. In fact, growth hormones of any kind are not approved for use when raising chickens or pigs, so all poultry and pork is free from added hormones.

2. “Antibiotic free”

“Antibiotic free” is another tricky one. If an animal gets sick, farmers must provide care for that animal, much like if you or children are sick, you visit a doctor and seek medically appropriate treatment. Farmers work closely with veterinarians to determine the best care plan for their livestock and administer antibiotics judiciously. If an animal is treated with antibiotics, a strict withdrawal period must be followed to allow ample time for the medicine to pass through the animal’s system. Antibiotics used in meat animals don’t enter our food system.

3. GMOs

“GMOs” or genetically modified organisms aren’t new to the farm scene and they’re not scary. Farmers have been improving plants for more than 10,000 years; biotechnology is just a more precise, efficient way of identifying and selecting traits that improve a plant’s ability to grow and thrive in difficult conditions, all while requiring fewer natural resources and chemicals. GMOs are the safest, most tested foods on the planet and more than 2000 independent scientific studies agree that GMO crops are safe for us to eat.

4. “Organic”

“Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean the food was grown on a small farm or was that it was raised without chemicals. Farmers of all sizes choose to grow both conventional and organic crops, and all food, regardless of how it was raised, must meet strict safety regulations before you can purchase it in the grocery store. Further, there is no nutritional difference between organically grown food and that raised using conventional methods.

5. Important Choices

Choices are important to all of us, and there’s room in farming for a wide range of production methods to provide us with in-demand food choices. The Certified SC Grown program features farms of all size growing fresh, local food. Look for the logo wherever you shop to know you’re supporting South Carolina farmers! For more information on Certified SC Grown and where to buy local produce, visit