Natural terminology can be confusing…
Terminology which originated in the natural farming community has been adulterated, and adopted, by the industrial producers. Unfortunately, they have been assisted by our government through the USDA. The result of the USDA’s promulgation of the definitions for terms that already had a clear meaning has been confusion and ambiguity for the consumer searching for clean, healthy food. Here are some examples:
Natural - One would assume that meats labeled as “natural” indicates that the creatures were raised in the way designed by nature – not confined to factory production houses but raised in the sun and fresh air, free of pharmaceutical injections, and on their natural diet containing no animal by-products. That is truly the “natural” way to raise good food.
You will be surprised to learn that the term “natural” on your meats at the grocery store has nothing at all to do with how the animal was raised! According to the USDA, the term may be used on meat labels if the meat has been “minimally processed.” What does that mean? It simply means that no artificial ingredients have been added at the processing stage. Again, it has nothing to do with how the creature was raised!
Free Range – Free range is another example of USDA-approved labeling that can be used to hide the truth. In USDA parlance, “free range” can be used to describe poultry raised in crowded confinement houses so long as they have “access” to the out of doors. Anyone who has experience with chickens raised in the confinement house knows that the last thing the chicken will do is go outside. Its food, water, and pharmaceuticals are in the confinement house. Because of growth hormones and feed, the chickens grow so fast that they literally outgrow their ability to walk around! This is no exaggeration. They are too fat to do anything other than wobble over to the feeder trough. The chance of these chickens seeing sunlight or fresh grass approaches zero.
Free range at Jolie Vue Farms means exactly that. Our chickens are provided a mobile shelter in the pasture for safe harbor from night predators and inclement weather. But during the day, they are dining on fresh air, sunshine, native pasture and their favorite meal, the grasshopper. The chickens at Jolie Vue Farms express their “chickenhood” every day!
Organic – The original organic community, a loose coalition of small idealistic farmers, were the genesis of the burgeoning retro-movement to foods that were raised humanely and without the use of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, or unnatural food supplements. But be careful, because the term does not necessarily tell you everything you need to know about your food. Under current usage, you might actually be better off with food that is technically not “organic”, but which is actually healthier, fresher, and more nutritious than organic. Sound upside down? Here’s what can happen.
Unless you’re a mega producer, it may be difficult or impossible to find the organic feeds which supplement the wild forages for chickens and pigs. And, if it is found, it may be prohibitively expensive. When organic became popular with a better informed populace, the mega-producers realized they had to jump on the bandwagon. Their gross economic power enabled them to contract with large industrialized farmers who agreed to produce organic feeds for them and them only. This can have the effect of squeezing the small producer out of the supply chain. So, while the small producer may be cut out of the loop for organic feeds, his product may actually be healthier than the product labeled “organic.”
We have given you the unnatural definitions of “natural” and “free range” promulgated by the the USDA. Combining those definitions with the term “organic” one could produce a chicken in a confinement house and call it “natural, organic, and free range chicken.” All of this just by supplying it with organic feed. It could be called free range if it had access to the out doors, even if it never went out of its confinement house. And, it could be called natural if it was “minimally processed.”
On the other hand, we know that the chlorophyll found in pastures is a natural detoxifier. So a small producer who is raising his creatures in a natural setting where the critters roam free on native, diverse pastures daily, but with non-organic grain to supplement their diet, is likely to produce a cleaner healthier product than the industrial producer who is taking advantage of the USDA definitions while raising his chickens in a fecal-infested, confined environment. Those producers can legally claim their product is natural, free range and organic. Judge for yourself.
The lesson here is to know how your producer uses these terms. And the best way to know that is to know your producer and their farm. Don’t ask Tyson, Pilgrim, or Sanderson for that previlege. They may not want you to know how they implement these terms. But, you’re always welcome to see our operations at Jolie Vue Farms. We’re proud of it, and we have nothing to hide. Just call.