LETS START WITH SOME DEFINITIONS...
These are the terms to know:
Natural Capital: The wealth that surrounds us in the form of trees, soil, animals, water, and microbial life!
Sustainability: The ability to adapt, to be resilient, and to operate in a way which limits output and maximizes regeneration.
Non-GMO: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or genetically engineered (GE) foods are plants or animals whose DNA has been altered in ways that cannot occur in nature or traditional crossbreeding, most commonly in order to be resistant to pesticides or produce and insecticide. The introduction of GMOs has had a profound effect on the level of pesticides present on and in our food, and potentially on our health and the enviroment. Common GMO crops include soybeans, alfalfa, squash, zucchini, papaya and canola, and are present in many breakfast cereals and much of the processed food that we eat. If you see the ingredients corn syrup or soy lecithin, chances are that it contains GMOs.
Foods Labeled "GMO free" or "Non-GMO": Without the seal, foods labeled with these terms have NOT necessarily undergone independent verification.
Organic: Foods that contain at least 95% organic ingredients may display the USDA seal.
Made With Organic Ingredients: Foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients will not display the USDA seal but may list specific organic ingredients on the package.
Contains Organic Ingredients: Foods that contain less than 70% organic ingredients will not display the USDA seal but may list specific organic ingredients on the information panel of the package.
Certified organic and small farms: Keep in mind that even if a producer is certified organic in the US, the use of the USDA Organic label is voluntary. At the same time, not everyone goes through the rigorous process of becoming certified, especially smaller farming operations. When shopping at a farmers' markert, don't hesitate to ask the farmer how their food was grown or how their animals were raised.
Different Methods OF RAISING ANIMALS:
Pasture Rotation/ Rotational Grazing: A management strategy used to maximize forage growth and encourage desirable plants and plant parts. Generally, the leaves of plants are much more palatable, nutritious, and photosynthetically active than stems. In order to maximize forage growth, livestock are stragically moved through a series of fresh pastures in order to provide a "grazing-rest period" for plants to regrow their leaves. This photosynthesizes more plant tissue which then grow at a faster rate because there is more leaf material. After a period of rest and regrowth, the livestock are rotated back to their point of origin while plants are still leafy and have not behun building a lot of stem tissue. This ensures that animals only eat the most nutritious and desirable part of forage, and allows the land to rest and rejuvenate.
Intensive Animal Farming: Otherwise known as Industrial Factory Farming, this refers to a high input, high waste, high output operation typically centered around making the most food, at the cheapest price.
CAFO: A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation means animals are overcrowded, often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at plants or insects, or live in fresh grass.
Free Range: Defined solely for poultry meat only. In order to use this term, the producer must demonstrate to the USDA that poultry have access to the outdoors. The type of outdoor access (such as pasture or dirt lot), the length of time animals are required outdoor access, and how this is verified is not legally defined. This means the term and its conditions varies greatly from one institution to the next. Meaning...there is no guarantee that these birds ever see the sun shine. This term has no legal definition when it comes to laying hens or any other animal for that matter.
Cage Free: The term means that egg-laying hens are not raised in cages. However, this doesn't mean that they had access to the outdoors.
Natural: As defined by the USDA, the term applies only to how meat from the animal is processed after it has been slaughtered. This does not refer to how the animals were raised or what they ate. It can be applied to all meat.
Naturally Raised: This claim should be followed by a specific statement such as "naturally raised without antibiotics or growth hormones" in order to obtain USDA approval.
Pasture Raised: The term claims that the animals were not raised in confinement and had year-round access to the outside. There are no requirements for exactly how much time the animals spend outside so make sure to talk to your farmer and see the land yourself.
Grass Fed: 100% of the diet of grass-fed animals consists of freshly grazed pasture during the growing season and stored grasses during the winter months and during drought conditions. This term refers to the diet of cattle, sheep, goats, and bison. It does not indicate if the animal was given access to pasture or if it was raised in a feedlot, and if they were treated with antibiotics and/or hormones. Feedlot cattle could be fed harvested forage and supplements, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones and still bear the USDA grass-fed label. Meat eaters will have the best luck sourcing from and knowing their farmer.
Heritage: Heritage foods come from traditional breeds of livestock and crops that were bred over time so that they are well-adapted to local environmental conditions and can resist local disease. Heritage livestock breeds usually have slow growth rates and are well suited for pasture raising.