Organic vs. Natural, what are the food labels really telling you?
Organic vs. Natural, what are the labels really telling you?

Coming to Terms: What Food Labels Really Mean

There are so many marketing geniuses, hype specialists, and spin doctors in the food industry these days it’s hard to figure out what is fact and what is “sort of fact”, or what is brilliant marketing but has no real substance — the emperor has no clothes! When it comes to getting a handle on food labels, knowledge is empowerment. The more we know, the more we are able to make conscious choices.

Understanding food labels: knowledge is power

Natural: This is one marketing term that is so mis-used and so mis-understood that companies can throw the term around on food labels quite liberally. The FDA and USDA have impregnated the term “Natural” to mean essentially: from the earth. But a product only has to contain 10% “Natural” ingredients to say Natural on the label. Well, B-vitamins made from coal tar derivatives are considered Natural, because coal tar is an earth element. The same is true for MSM (which is made from petroleum residue and methane gas) but because petroleum and methane are earth elements, it is regarded by the government agencies to be natural. Vitamin A which is made from petroleum esters unless the label specifically says “fish oil”, is also considered natural. So is High Fructose Corn Syrup. I say this very bluntly: the companies that play the natural card are doing un-natural things to the food.

Understanding food labels: knowledge is power

Organic: The standards for Organic versus Certified Organic may be confusing but the basics of Organic remain as they apply to food: pesticide/herbicide free, grown without industrial sludge or waste water management’s biosolids, free of hexane (a neurotoxin), free of genetically modified organisms. The fact is that organic foods are more expensive because they are not subsidized. Unlike many conventionally-grown foods, organic foods are actually priced based on true food costs (growing, and harvesting). If conventionally-grown foods were no longer government subsidies, we would see conventional foods priced like current-day organics.

Inorganic: This is a term applied to minerals such as carbonates, oxides, sulfates, phosphates. It may seem like an oxymoron, since minerals are clearly earth elements. But to the body, a mineral in it’s earth state is inorganic. The body must chelate or bind an organic substance to the inorganic mineral for bioavailability. This process is known as Chelation. In sprouted seeds chelation is a part of the sprouting process. The inorganic minerals are chelated by the seed with free amino acids. This is called Amino Acid Chelation. Amino Acids provide a high degree of bioavailability for the minerals.

Chelates: Many companies use the term chelated minerals in their labeling. This does not mean amino acid chelated. There are other chelators: gluconates are from corn, citrates are made from corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch with certain strains of the mold Aspergillus nigerLactates are from lactic acid produced from the fermentation of whey, cornstarch, potatoes, or molasses.

Elemental: On the human side of supplementation it is required to give the elemental weight of minerals before chelation. Since the chelating process adds weight to the molecule (for example: 200 mgs of calcium with 800mgs of amino acids equals: 1,000mgs of amino acid chelated calcium). Companies prior to this ruling could put on their label 1,000mgs of amino acid chelated calcium and the consumer thought it meant 1,000mgs of calcium. On the equine side we don’t have this requirement, so keep in mind that the amount of mineral listed (as either an amino acid chelate, or gluconate, or citrate, or lactate) does not mean that is the elemental amount of mineral your horse is getting. Chelates add to the weight of the mineral molecules.

The term Elemental is also not used with certain ingredients like glucosamine sulfate. This particular nutraceutical is very unstable, and has to be stabilized with potassium or sodium chloride. Up to 30% of the total weight of the glucosamine sulfate can be the stabilizers. So a label that claims for example: 4,000 mgs ofglucosamine sulfate may in fact only provide the elemental amount of 2,800 mgs of glucosamine sulfate (4,000 mgs minus 30% for the stabilizers equals 2,800 mgs).

Understanding food labels: knowledge is power

Genetically Modified Organisms/ Genetically Engineered: The US is the only developed country in the world that does not require labeling of GMO/GE food/plants/seeds/food products. The crops that are 90% GMO/GE seeds in the US are corn, soy, canola. However, as of 2007, 30% of the US rice crop was GMO/GE. The EU and Japan have banned the importation of US genetically modified rice. Genetically modified foods aren’t just the whole seeds themselves, but come into our food supply as High Fructose Corn Syrup, vegetable oil (blend of soy and corn processed with hexane), soy protein, soy protein isolate, soy flour, zein coatings (a highly hydrophobic protein from corn, used in supplement pills), canola oil, soy oil, corn oil. Some rices. If a label does not say Organic or GMO/GE free as it relates to corn products and by- products, soy products and by-products, canola products and by-products, rice products and by-products then you and your family, horses, dogs, and cats are consuming genetically modified organisms.

Country of Origin: Labeling of Country of Origin is required of all fresh beef, pork, lamb and fruits and vegetables. Processed meats do not require country of origin labeling. Currently there are no laws or requirements of country of origin labeling for supplement companies or feed companies. The advantage of including country of origin on food labels to us consumers is that we can see where the ingredients come from. Is the B-1 from the EU or China? Is the Glucosamine from Japan or Taiwan? Where are the amino acids made? Knowing where the ingredients come from may not change our buying decisions, but it does gives us information, and information is empowerment.

It has been a very conscious decision at BioStar to include Country of Origin of every ingredient on every product label. We hope that all other supplement companies will join us in empowering customers with Country of Origin on their labels.

Food Based/Whole Food: There are many supplements for horses that are food based: they have whole food in the product (flax based, rice bran based, alfalfa based, etc). Having a food based supplement can improve thebioavailibility of the product since whole food provides the protein chaperones that are essential for cellular delivery. However, a food based supplement is not the same as a whole food supplement because a food based supplement still uses ingredients that are petro-chemical, coal tar derivatives, and or merely products of the chemical industry. A whole food supplement is the whole food itself which delivers not only high bioavailability but also also the entire matrix of the food itself: enzymes, fiber, protein, amino acid chelated minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, free amino acids, and co-factors yet to be identified.

The more we know, the more conscious our choices become. We can evaluate products and formulas as empowered consumers. We can ask informed questions of the companies we buy from. We can read the food labels and know what we are purchasing. We are the decision makers.


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