A Little Clarity, Please

Speaking of “all natural”, people ask me what it means when they see it on the grocery labels. So I start with the truth – “not what you might think”. There is the usual definition in Oxford’s, and then there is the USDA definition. It is the USDA definition that you see or hear about regarding food. The latter definition evolved as a result of the mass producers pressuring the USDA to create terminology to help them compete with the growing demand for unadulterated food. Our government complied - of course. Never believe that the USDA stands for the everyday citizen. They are all about the Bigs.

Oxford’s defines natural as “established by nature; having a basis in the normal constitution of things; taking place in conformity with the ordinary course of nature.” Sounds like drug-free, grass-fed and finished beef, forested pork and free range chicken and eggs, doesn’t it.

The USDA defines natural as “minimally processed”. Do you know what that means? I don’t. It is so ambiguous as to be nearly unidentifiable. And that’s the point. Our government strikes again.

But I must be fair. Some producers have taken it upon themselves to add more definition to the term. For instance, when Niman Ranch uses the word, they impose upon themselves a requirement that there be no sub-therapeutic antibiotics nor artificial hormones added to the beeve’s diet. But Niman’s is not grass-fed and finished, instead finished on processed corn. I give them credit for progress, but they are by no means “all natural”. The same is true of Laura’s Lean Beef. Corn finished. I suspect the same is true of Nolan Ryan’s beef, but have not verified that. But I don’t know how you make Brahma cows raised in the prickly pear of South Texas edible without putting them in corn feed-lots. If Nolan does, he’s an All-Star in beef as well as baseball.