The Seattle Times

By Rebekah Denn

April 16, 2011

How to know your terms:

Here are a few food labels and what they do, and don’t, mean:

Certified Organic: A term regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Requirements include being free of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers for at least three years. No genetically modified materials, no antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones or irradiation are allowed. Up to 5 percent of a Certified Organic product can be nonorganic additives from an approved list.

Certified Humane®: A nonprofit organization provides its label to farmers and producers who meet its standards, available online, including these: Pigs must be free to turn around in their stalls. Calves cannot be weaned off milk or milk replacement until they are at least 5 weeks old (

Natural: The USDA requires meat and poultry labeled “natural” to contain no artificial ingredients or added colors, and to be minimally processed. (“Plumping” with water or chicken broth is OK.) For anything else, noted the Consumer Ally advocate column on AOL, Natural is an abused term that “should send your B.S. meter spinning.”

United Egg Producer Certified: An industry label whose guidelines include the following: Caged birds must each have between 67 and 86 square inches of space. Eggs labeled “free-range” must be from hens that have at least some access to the outdoors, though they don’t actually need to go outdoors.