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Demystifying Food Marketing Terms…like “Organic”

I was forwarded this information from a caring individual who does research for Health Canada. We don’t know who actually authored the piece. I get a slew of questions about what is organic, genetically modified, my opinions…etc. It’s a complicated subject matter. I thought it would be helpful to share this article with those inquiring minds who want to know the score. I’m going to add the definition of “Genetically Modified” as outlined by Health Canada as well. Here’s the article:

Food marketing is just like car or major appliance marketing: you need to shop informed and arrive with a healthy dose of skepticism. The following is a demystifying “primer” on a few key words found in the grocery aisle that should help you shop informed:


The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has Organic Products Regulations which requires that anyone who is going to certify a product as organic first be accredited by them. Once certified the product gets a logo. However, it is quite common to find foods with other logos certifying them as organic. You have no way of knowing how accurate their information is and what their standards are without searching the Internet first. Given the confusion, I figure if I buy from the farmer I can ask about how things are raised, I can reduce my pesticide load and I can avoid the higher prices that come with buying organic.

Free-Range, Free-Run Chicken or Eggs

These words seem pretty meaningless to farmers and the CFIA. There is no regulatory body checking these terms and they are more about the conditions the birds and the eggs are produced under rather than about any nutritional or health value. Most chickens raised in Canada have “free-run” of a large barn with access to water and food all day. A “free-range” chicken may also have access to an open barn door half an hour a day. As for the eggs, a large barn with hundreds of egg-laying hens roaming freely is a recipe for disaster. Only farmers with relatively small flocks of hens can live up to that lovely image of farm children going out to gather the day’s fresh eggs.

Light or Lite

The proper spelling is “light” and to Health Canada this means a food is 25 per cent lighter in calories, fat, sodium (salt) or sugar than the original. “Lite” could mean lite-tasting, lite-coloured, lighter packaging or whatever.


According to the CFIA, foods labeled “natural” cannot have any vitamins, minerals, artificial flavours or food additives added to it. So natural is regulated and you may not see it much, what you will see is “naturally raised” or “nature’s way” as these are unregulated and their meaning is open to the manufacturer’s interpretation.

Made or Produced In Canada

Who among us was not surprised to discover recently that made or produced in Canada could be anything but! The federal government jumped on this issue right away and now “Product of Canada” has to mean all, or virtually all, major ingredients, processing, and labour used to make the food product are Canadian. However there still remains: “Made in Canada from domestic and imported ingredients”, “Prepared in Canada” and “Processed in Canada”. Some people may see this as meaning the same as “Produced in Canada” but that would be a misconception.

Spending more for foods labeled with some of these words may be foolish. Check your reactions and the labels when you see these words and make sure you are getting what you want. (End of article)

AND definitions not included in this article:

Genetically Modified

Essentially, a GM food is one derived from an organism that has had some of its heritable traits changed. This can involve:

  • Traditional breeding techniques of crossbreeding.

  • Using chemicals or radiation to alter the genetic make-up of the organism’s cells in a process called mutagenesis.

  • Applying recombinant DNA or genetic engineering techniques – for instance, introducing a gene from one species into another species.

  • They range from insect-resistant corn and herbicide-resistant canola to genetically modified yeasts that reduce levels of unwanted compounds in wine.

Health Canada states that: “A company typically takes seven to ten years to research, develop and test a novel food before filing a pre-market notification with the Food Directorate of Health Canada to obtain approval for sale.”

I understand that it can take more than 10 years to determine if genetically modified or any other “altered” product for consumption for that matter, effects on our health.

My philosophy is that any product that is new and/or improved that has not been out on the market for 10 years or more is subject to controversy.

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