Sustainable Dictionary

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100% Vegetarian Diet

Animals are not fed any animal byproducts. This does not guarantee they were raised outdoors or on pasture, but it should indicate that they were raised on grasses, hay, silage and other feed found on pasture or in a field. Grain, like corn, is vegetarian and falls into this category. Producers feeding their animals a 100% vegetarian diet should not be giving them supplements or additives, but it is always best to check with the farmer.



A fairly new term that combines agriculture and business. In the past, agriculture has been treated as something completely separate from other types of business. Over the past 50 years, factory farm companies have been replacing traditional agriculture, so now we need new words and new ways of thinking about agriculture to describe where our food comes from.


Ammonia is a common by-product of animal waste due to the often inefficient conversion of feed nitrogen into animal product. Livestock and poultry are often fed high-protein feed, which contains surplus nitrogen, to ensure that the animals' nutritional requirements are met. Nitrogen that is not metabolized into animal protein (i.e., milk, meat, or eggs) is excreted in the urine and feces of livestock and poultry where further microbial action releases ammonia into the air during manure decomposition

Animal Unit

For federal lands, an animal unit represents one mature cow, bull, steer, heifer, horse, mule, or five sheep, or five goats, 5 feeder pigs, 100 chicken breeders, 100 turkey broilers, and 1 bison. Each province has its own definition of an "animal unit" for regulatory purposes.


Animals were raised without being given antibiotics. No antibiotics were administered to the animal during its lifetime. If an animal becomes sick, it will be taken out of the herd and treated but it will not be sold with this label.


Medicines created using microbes or fungi that are weakened and taken into the body to destroy harmful bacteria.

Avian Flu

Avian influenza is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. These influenza viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines, but usually do not get sick from them. However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.



Biofuels can be broadly defined as solid, liquid, or gas fuel derived from decomposing biological material, most commonly plants. Biofuels are produced from living organisms or from metabolic by-products (organic or food waste products). In order to be considered a biofuel, the fuel must contain over 80 percent renewable materials.


Male pig.

Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE)

See Mad Cow Disease.


A chicken raised for its meat. Typically weighs around 2kg.


Male cattle.


C. difficile

Clostridium difficile or C. difficile is a bacterium that causes diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions such as colitis. It is the most common cause of infectious diarrhea in hospitalized patients in the industrialized world. It is also one of the most common infections in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

The use of antibiotics increases the chances of developing C. difficile diarrhea. Treatment with antibiotics alters the normal levels of good bacteria found in the intestines and colon. C. difficile bacteria have been found in a variety of ground and processed meats bought from grocery stores in Canada and the United States


Birds are raised without cages. What this doesn’t explain is if the birds were raised outdoors on pasture, if they had access to outside, or if they were raised indoors in overcrowded conditions. If you are looking to buy eggs, poultry or meat that was raised outdoors, look for a label that says “Pastured” or “Pasture-raised”.

Certified Humane

The Certified Humane label assures consumers that a meat, poultry, egg or dairy product has been produced according to Humane Farm Animal Care's precise standards for humane farm animal treatment. Animals must receive a nutritious diet without antibiotics or hormones and must be raised with shelter, resting areas and space sufficient to support natural behavior. The Winnipeg Humane Society also has a certified humane label. Their standards include: no animal caging; minimum space requirements; no hormones or unnecessary antibiotics; and mandatory barn inspections by independent professionals.


Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
The agency's mission is to safeguard food, animals and plants, which enhance the health and well-being of Canada’s people, environment and economy.


Abbreviation for Confined Feeding Operation, which is an agricultural business where animals are raised in confinement and fed an unnatural diet, instead of allowing them to roam and graze.


Circovirus is a type of wasting disease that is being referred to as the hog industry’s version of BSE (Mad Cow disease). Affected hogs display signs of anorexia, rapid weight loss, skin discoloration, respiratory problems, and diarrhea. It is a deadly disease that affects young hogs during the grower phase.

Clean Air Act

On October 19, 2006 - The Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of the Environment, announced that there would be a new agenda for the Clean Air Act. The Government is committed to achieving an absolute reduction in Green House Gases (GHG) emissions between 45 and 65% from 2003 levels by 2050.

Clean Water Act (CWA)

The Ontario government enacted the Clean Water Act on July 3, 2007. The objective of the Clean Water Act is to protect municipal drinking water through a collaborative and locally driven multi-stakeholder process. So far, Ontario has been the only province to develop a CWA.

Collective farming

Is an organization of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise.

Contract grower

Farmer who makes an agreement with an agribusiness company, giving the company the power to make all the farm's decisions, including which animals are raised there, what they are fed, and how they are treated. In return the company pays the farmer and buys the supplies.

Cottage Industry

An industry where the creation of products and services is home-based, rather than factory-based. While products and services created by cottage industry are often unique and distinctive given the fact that they are usually not mass-produced, producers in this sector often face numerous disadvantages when trying to compete with much larger factory-based companies.

Cottage Processing

Small-scale processing that takes place in a home-based industry

Country of Origin Labeling

If approved, this United States initiative would require beef, lamb, pork, fish, perishable agricultural commodities, and peanuts to be labeled with the country in which they were produced. Meat products covered in the legislation qualify for a “product of the United States” label only if it was derived from an animal that was born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States. There was widespread disagreement in the industry regarding how to label feeder pigs and feeder cattle that were born in Canada or Mexico but raised and slaughtered in the United States. While the meat would not qualify for a US country of origin label, it would be misleading to label them as originating from the importing country as most of the production occurred in the United States. To address this issue the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) created separate “Born In”, “Raised In”, or “Processed In” labels. For example, pork produced from Canadian feeder pigs that were raised and slaughtered in Iowa would bear the label “Born in Canada, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States.” In addition to providing consumers with valuable information about their food, it is believed that Country of Origin Labeling would help to promote locally-produced meat and would enable meat to be more easily traced in the event of a recall or an outbreak of disease.

Cover crops

Crops that are grown not to be harvested for food but to cover and protect soil surface and prevent soil erosion.

Crop rotation

The practice of alternating different crops in a field in planned cycles in order to regulate nitrogen levels, prevent soil erosion, reduce fertilizer needs and improve the overall long-term productivity of the land.


Abbreviation for Community Supported Agriculture, a system in which consumers support a local farm by paying in advance for agricultural products. This reduces the financial risks for the farmer because the costs of seeds and planting crops are covered in advance by consumers. Throughout the growing season, CSA members receive a portion of the farm's harvest each week. Members share the financial risks and the bounty of the harvest - if it is a successful growing season, they receive a lot of food; if there are fewer crops, they receive less. Members are also encouraged to visit the farm and some even volunteer there.



Debeaking, also called beak trimming is the partial removal of the beak of poultry, especially chickens and turkeys. Most commonly, the beak is shortened permanently, although regrowth can occur.


Dioxins are a man-made pollutant with an array of health risks in humans. Potent toxics, they act as endocrine disruptors (interfering with the body's natural hormone signals), damage the immune system, and may affect reproduction and childhood development. Dioxins are "persistent" compounds which drift around the world, and then tend to accumulate in fatty tissues of animals and humans. 95% of typical human exposure comes through dietary intake of animal fats such as meat, dairy and eggs.

Distiller Grains

Distillers grains is a cereal byproduct of the distillation process.

There are two main sources of these grains. The traditional sources were from brewers. More recently, fuel ethanol production is a growing source. It is created in distilleries by drying mash, and is subsequently sold for a variety of purposes, usually as fodder for livestock (especially ruminants).


Method of farming that involves more than one agricultural product. One example would be a farm that raises cows and grain.


Animals that collapse during transportation or at the slaughterhouse, too stressed or sick to continue walking. Because normal animals fetch a higher price at the market, downers are frequently kicked or prodded in attempts to force them to move. Those that do not move may be left on the ground without food or water for days before they die. Downers may be processed for human consumption.


E. coli

A species of bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and other vertebrates (animals with spines). Although the bacteria that naturally exist in your intestines are harmless and helpful in digestion, eating or drinking E. coli that comes from outside, such as in polluted water or meat that has not been processed safely, can cause severe food poisoning or even death.


A method of identifying products that cause less damage to the environment than other products (such as Fair Trade, organic, Food Alliance certified, raised without antibiotics, etc.). There exists a wide selection of eco-labels with different criteria and varying degrees of legitimacy. While some labels indicate that food was produced according to strict guidelines enforced and verified by third-party food-certifying agencies, other labels are self-awarded by food producers. For additional information about eco-labels, visit the Consumer’s Greener Choices


The study of the interactions of organisms in their environment


An economic term for conditions that create the biggest possible profit with the smallest possible costs. This is an important idea in industry, since the goal of any business is to make as much money as possible and avoid wasting anything -- think of wastefulness as the opposite of efficiency.


Liquid waste, often from a factory or sewer. This is a term that is often used to refer to the urine and manure that is pumped into or out of a lagoon.

Electronic Pasteurization or Electronically Pasteurized

Food that has been irradiated.


A cost or benefit of a product or service that is not included in its price. For instance, a negative externality of a factory farm is the enormous amount of pollution it generates; although the pollution increases health care costs and necessitates expensive cleanup efforts, these costs are not paid by the consumers who purchase food produced by these farms or by the owners of the factory farms. Instead, the costs are borne by society. On the other hand, a positive externality of a sustainable farm is the preservation of unpolluted, undeveloped green space; although society enjoys the benefits of these areas (preservation of biodiversity, protection of clean water, aesthetic appeal, etc.), no one provides compensation to the farmers who maintain the land.


Factory farm

A large-scale industrial site where many animals (generally chickens, turkeys, cattle, or pigs) are confined and may be treated with hormones and antibiotics to maximize growth and prevent disease. The animals produce much more waste than the surrounding land can handle. These operations are associated with various environmental hazards as well as cruelty to animals. The government calls these facilities Concentrated (or Confined) Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), Confined Feeding Operations (CFOs), or Intensive Livestock Operations (ILO). Visit our Industrial vs Susutainable page for more information.

Family farm / Small farm

A family farm is a farm owned and operated by a family, and passed down from generation to generation. It is the basic unit of the mostly agricultural economy of much of human history and continues to be so in developing nations. Alternatives to family farms include those run by agribusiness, colloquially known as factory farms, or by collective farming.

Farm Gate Sales

A Farm Gate Sale is a transaction that takes place right at the farm. This means that you actually meet the person who grows your food, and you get freshest produce possible. Long distance food tends to lose nutrients over travel time and the varieties grown are selected for their uniformity and durability instead of good taste.

Buying directly from the farm not only provides you with tasty, fresh food but also puts money directly into the local economy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions from transportation and packaging, and provides a more nutritious meal for the family. Buying from a neighboring farm also allows good relationships to develop between growers and consumers.


Buildings, lots, or a combination of buildings and lots in which animals are confined for feeding, breeding, raising, and/or holding. The concentration of hundreds or thousands of animals in a confined feedlot facility drastically reduces the welfare of these animals, creates health risks, promotes the spread of disease, and yields tremendous quantities of animal waste, which pollutes the natural environment and threatens human health.


The process through which an animal gains weight prior to slaughter. On factory farms, animals are generally finished on a pure grain-based diet, which induces rapid weight gain and creates the "marbled" layers of fat in beef to which consumers are accustomed. However, cows and other ruminants are naturally adapted to eat grasses; large quantities of grain cause them to develop high levels of acidity within their digestive tracts, leading to a number of health problems. Sustainably-raised animals are finished on pasture, where they consume the grasses and other plants that their bodies are best adapted to digest. Research has shown that meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals are better for human health than foods from grain fed animals. Note: Grass-fed, grain-supplemented animals are also raised on pasture, but are given access to controlled amounts of grain during the finishing period and do not encounter the health problems that animals fed a pure grain diet can face.


Sudden death of a significant number of fish or other aquatic life such as crabs or shrimp within one area. A fishkill can be caused by many different changes in the environment, including pollution, temperature change and change in acidity.


Fodder or animal feed is any foodstuff that is used specifically to feed domesticated livestock, such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin. "Fodder" refers particularly to food given to the animals (including plants cut and carried to them), rather than that which they forage for themselves. It includes hay, straw, silage, compressed and pelleted feeds, oils and mixed rations, and also sprouted grains and legumes.

Food localism

Food Localism is the movement to increase the demand for, and purchase of, locally grown and processed food. This spans the full range of food products and ultimately requires the participation of all partners in the "food chain".

Food Sovereignty

A term originally coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996 to refer to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers', peasants', pastoralists', fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples', womens', rural youth and environmental organizations, namely the claimed "right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems," in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces.

Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to:

  • define their own food and agriculture;
  • to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives;
  • to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant;
  • to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and;
  • to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources.
Foot and Mouth Disease

Sometimes called hoof-and-mouth disease, is a highly contagious and sometimes fatal viral disease of cattle and pigs. It can also infect deer, elk, antelope, bison, water buffalo, goats, sheep, and other bovids with cloven hooves.

Free range

This term refers to animals that are not confined, meaning that these animals are able to go outdoors to engage in natural behaviors. It does not necessarily mean that the products are cruelty-free or antibiotic-free, or that the animals spend the majority of their time outdoors. This is not a term that is certifiable so the consumer needs to be aware.

Free walkers

These hens are housed indoors, though they can move around and have unlimited access to food. Similar to "cage-free".


Genetic engineering

The science of changing the DNA of a plant or animal to produce desirable characteristics. Examples of desirable characteristics include fast growth and unusually large size. This is a very controversial science that many believe has not been adequately tested and studied. In addition, not everyone agrees that the plants and animals that are genetically engineered are safe for humans to eat or safe for the environment if released.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)

This is a plant or animal that has been genetically engineered. Many industries support the development and use of GMOs while many consumers and organizations question their safety and have called for adequate and independent testing of GMO products. It is legal for farmers in Canada, the U.S. and some other countries like Argentina to produce and sell certain GMOs for human and animal consumption, but in other places like Europe and Japan, they are banned until further testing can be done to prove they are safe.

GMO-Free or No GMOs

The product was produced without the use of GMOs (genetically-modified organisms).

Good Food Boxes

Alternative food distribution system that provides a variety of top quality, fresh, nutritious food at an affordable price. Individuals place an order for boxes of fruits and vegetable and are delivered to a central location for customers to pick up. The contents of the boxes can change depending on what is in season.

Grain Finished

Cattle who are fed only grain before slaughter. Some producers raise their animals on pasture but then feed them grain for a certain amount of time before slaughter. Grain makes the meat fattier and creates the taste most people are currently accustomed to.


The animal was raised on a diet of grain and the grain could be supplemented with animal byproducts and other miscellaneous matter. Since mad cow disease is thought to be transmitted through animal byproducts added to cattle feed, cows raised on a strictly vegetarian diet are preferred by many consumers. However, unless the label says “100 Percent Vegetarian Diet there is no guarantee that the animal’s feed was not supplemented with animal byproducts. In addition, cattle are ruminants and eat grass; they cannot digest grains properly and can become sick if fed a diet of only grain. Although large-scale, confined grain feedlots enable industrial meat producers to fatten their animals quickly, they also foster disease within the cattle population, creating the need for antibiotics and increasing the risk of E. Coli.

Grass Fed/Grain Supplemented

Animals are raised on pasture and eat grasses. At a certain point, grains are slowly introduced into the diet in a controlled amount, along with the grasses. By controlling the amount of grain, the animals do not become sick and do not develop digestion problems that solely grain-fed cattle can encounter. They are also not forced to eat the grain.


Animals graze on pasture and eat grasses. They should not be supplemented with grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or be given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease (though they might be given antibiotics to treat disease). This is the same as pastured or pasture raised.


Water that exists beneath the earth's surface in underground streams and aquifers.


Heavy metals

Metallic chemicals like cadmium, arsenic, copper and zinc that can be harmful pollutants when they enter soil and water. These chemicals may be put into animal feed to help make animals grow faster. Heavy metals are present in human and animal waste and can enter the environment if waste is released without being treated. Animal waste is never treated to remove heavy metals. Once in the environment, heavy metals are almost impossible to get rid of because they do not decompose.


Heritage foods are derived from rare and endangered breeds of livestock and crops. Animals are purebreds and are a specific breed of animal that is near extinction. Production standards are not required by law, but true heritage farmers use sustainable production methods. This method of production saves animals from extinction and preserves genetic diversity.

Holistic Management

A decision making framework that assists farmers and others in establishing a long-term goal, a detailed financial plan, a biological plan for the landscape and a monitoring program to assess progress toward the goal. See Holistic Management International for more information.


Chemicals found naturally in animals' bodies that control processes like growth and metabolism. Synthetic (man-made) hormones have been developed for a number of purposes, including treatment of hormonal disorders in people, and also for promotion of unnaturally fast growth in farm animals. One of the most well-known and controversial hormones used in farming is recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone or rBGH, which is genetically engineered and injected into dairy cattle. rBGH is not permitted for use in Canada. Scientists have linked excess hormones to cancer.


Independent family farm

Farm on which the ownership and management are controlled by at least one family member who lives on the farm, not by a corporation or absentee owner.

Intensive Livestock Operation (ILO)

Another term for a factory farm.

IPM (Integrated pest management)

Natural pest control methods, such as habitat manipulation, biological control, and pest-resistant plants, are used to eliminate pest problems. Pesticides are used in the smallest possible amounts only when other techniques prove inadequate.


Exposure to radiation. Meat is sometimes irradiated in the United States to kill micro-organisms and reduce the number of microbes present due to unsanitary practices, but this process alters the nutritional quality and creates new chemicals that can be harmful to the humans who consume the meat. Many believe that there has not been enough testing to know whether irradiated food is safe for humans. The only foods in Canada that have been approved for irradiation are; potatoes, onions, wheat, wheat flour, spices, dried vegetable seasoning, and herbs. For more information, Food and Water Watch's food irradiation page





A huge, manmade hole in the ground created to hold a mixture of water and animal waste until it can be applied to land. These can be as big as several square acres (1 acre = 43,560 square feet) and hold 20-25 million gallons of liquid waste. This is equivalent to more than 98 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Lagoons are generally not covered and frequently leak into the surrounding soil or groundwater, so they are associated with air, water and soil pollution.


Hen (female chicken) raised to lay eggs.

Litter burn

Massive amounts of manure accumulate in the floor litter from the thousands of birds during their six week life. The birds suffer litter burn from the high moisture and ammonia content of the manure on the floor. Litter quality deteriorates, as does air quality, which becomes polluted with ammonia, dust and micro-organisms, causing respiratory infections and sores.


The term used to refer (singularly or plurally) to a domesticated animal intentionally reared in an agricultural setting to make produce such as food or fibre, or for its labour. The term generally does not include poultry or farmed fish.


Mad cow disease

Common name for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), a cattle disease that causes the brain to waste away. It takes about 4-7 years for cattle to show symptoms of the disease after being exposed to it, but once symptoms become visible the cattle die within weeks. One way this disease is spread is by feeding the meat from infected cattle to other cattle (meat from infected sheep may also cause the disease). This was a common practice on factory farms until the 1980s and 1990s when it was outlawed in most countries because it was found to cause BSE. At that time, thousands of cattle believed to have been exposed to BSE were killed to prevent further spread of the disease. Consuming beef from infected cattle causes a brain-wasting disease called new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans.

Marketing Board

The Agricultural Marketing Board is a statutory body which acts as a compulsory marketing agent, performing or controlling one or more of the functions of marketing on behalf of producers of specific agricultural commodities. Boards may be established and operated under legislation passed by either provincial or federal governments, depending on whether the products they market or regulate are produced and sold within a province (intraprovincially) or are sold interprovincially or to export markets. Some boards are subject to the jurisdiction of both levels of government. In 1987 there were 121 agricultural marketing boards in Canada. Marketing boards operate in every province and regulate a wide variety of agricultural products. Examples of boards are the Egg Marketing Board, and the Milk Marketing Board.


In brewing and distilling, mashing is the process of combining a mix of milled grain and water, known as wort (typically malted barley with supplementary grains as corn, sorghum, rye or wheat


A gas given off by animal waste. It can be used as fuel, but the process to turn it into fuel is very expensive, so this is not done very often. Methane is a greenhouse gas, which means that it contributes to global warming.

Methicillin-Resistant-Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

The organism Staphylococcus aureus is found on many individuals skin and seems to cause no major problems. However if it gets inside the body, for instance under the skin or into the lungs, it can cause important infections such as boils or pneumonia. Individuals who carry this organism are usually totally healthy, have no problems whatever and are considered simply to be carriers of the organism.

The term MRSA or methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus is used to describe those examples of this organism that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Methicillin was an antibiotic used many years ago to treat patients with Staphylococcus aureus infections. It is now no longer used except as a means of identifying this particular type of antibiotic resistance.

Minimum Distance Separation (MDS) or Set Back Distance

Formulas are used to determine recommended distances between a livestock or permanent manure storage facility and another land use. The objective of MDS is to prevent land use conflicts and minimize nuisance complaints from odour. Often, these distances are very small and do not minimize any problems created by a factory farm.

Mobile Meat Processing Unit

A slaughterhouse in a trailer that can be moved from one farm to another in order to accommodate small farmers and ranchers. The units drastically reduce the stress animals endure from being transported long distances. In many places in Canada, mobile meat processing units are not allowed because of regulations.

Molting / Forced molting

Part of a hen's natural reproductive cycle. After laying eggs for about a year, a hen loses her feathers and rests for a few weeks as new feathers grow in. This is called molting, or a molt, and it usually happens at the beginning of winter. On factory farms, hens are subjected to forced molting, where farm operators cause this process to happen rapidly by depriving hens of food and water for several days and altering the schedule of light and darkness in the confinement building. This way, all the hens molt simultaneously and over a very short time period. For more information, visit the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals


Monoculture is the destruction of a diverse ecosystem and replacement with a single species or crop. This is common practice in modern agriculture, where large acreages of crops are grown for sale to other regions or countries. Monocultures deplete the soil, and fruits and vegetables become more susceptible to pests and disease than those grown in a diverse crop environment, thus requiring larger amounts of chemical sprays.



The use of “natural” on labels is a much looser term than the use of the term “organic.” There’s no single set of requirements for products claiming to be natural. Farmers or food companies that use the “natural” label are not subject to inspections as a condition of using the label. You just have to take their word for it. However, “natural” foods are not necessarily sustainable, organic, humanely raised, or free of hormones and antibiotics. Again, knowing where your food comes from is definitely a benefit.

New variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD)

Disease in humans that causes the brain to waste away, caused by eating meat infected with Mad Cow Disease (BSE) or other related animal diseases. It was first detected in 1994, and although it is still not known how much time it takes for symptoms to show up after a person is exposed, some scientists say it may take up to 40 years, so it is still not known how many people have been infected.

Nipah Virus

Nipah virus is a newly recognized zoonotic virus. The virus was 'discovered' in 1999. It has caused disease in animals and in humans, through contact with infectious animals. The mode of transmission from animal to animal, and from animal to human is uncertain, but appears to require close contact with contaminated tissue or body fluids from infected animals. Nipah antibodies have been detected in pigs, other domestic and wild animals.


Chemicals made up of oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. When chemicals containing nitrogen (for example, ammonia) combine with water, nitrates are usually formed, and these nitrates can cause serious illness or even death if large amounts are consumed. Nitrate poisoning is usually caused by drinking water contaminated with nitrates. The primary sources of nitrate pollution are human waste and manure, especially runoff from factory farms. Processed meat also often contains nitrates, which are used to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and to enhance the color. Eating meat that has been treated with nitrates may cause health problems including cancer, migraines, high cholesterol and hyperactivity.

No antibiotics administered, raised without antibiotics or antibiotic-free

No antibiotics were administered to the animal during its lifetime. If an animal becomes sick, it will be taken out of the herd and treated but it will not be sold with this label.

No Hormones Administered or No Added Hormones

Animals were raised without added growth hormones. In Canada,by law, hogs and poultry cannot be given any hormones - so the use of the label on these meats is misleading! To ensure that other meats were raised without added hormones, ask your farmer or butcher.

No-till farming

The practice of planting new crops amidst cuttings of old crops and not plowing the field in order to slow the release of carbon dioxide and diminish the greenhouse effect. No-till and low-till practices also increase the retention of water and nutrients, allowing earthworms and other organisms to proliferate and keep the soil healthy.

Non-point source pollution

Harmful substances that are carried by rain and snow moving over and through the earth and end up in groundwater, rivers, lakes or the ocean. These substances come from various sources and can be natural or man-made. They're called non-point source because instead of being dumped directly from a house or factory into a body of water, the pollutant is diluted and transported by the natural cycle of precipitation.

Non-therapeutic Antibiotics

Antibiotics administered to animals for purposes other than the treatment of existing illness. Factory farms routinely administer non-therapeutic antibiotics to their animals in order to boost growth rates and to prevent the outbreak of diseases which would otherwise run rampant within crowded, unsanitary facilities. The use of non-therapeutic antibiotics promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, causing antibiotics used to treat humans to become less effective.

Nutrient pollution

Contamination of water by too many nutrients, which often come from fertilizer or waste runoff. In surface waters, this can cause overproduction of algae (this is called an algal bloom), which uses up all the oxygen in the water and suffocates fish and other marine life.

Nyeleni Declaration

More than 500 representatives from more than 80 countries, of organizations of peasants/family farmers, artisanal fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, landless peoples, rural workers, migrants, pastoralists, forest communities, women, youth, consumers and environmental and urban movements gathered together in the village of Nyéléni in Sélingué, Mali to strengthen a global movement for food sovereignty. For more information go to Nyéléni 2007.



The organic label is earned through a certification process, and it means the producer adhered to a strict set of rules and procedures. Inspectors verify the methods of production of all organic products. In Canada, these standards are:

  • No use of chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers in the growing of the animals’ feed;
  • No use of genetically modified organisms; No use of growth hormones;
  • No use of drugs (such as antibiotics);
  • No use of animal by-products for feed;
  • Treating animals humanely (i.e. they have outside access at all times);
  • Inspections by an independent certification body occur on a regular basis;
  • All records are kept for at least 5 years;
  • Strict Canadian and International standards are met. Meat may not be truly organic unless the meat has been certified by an independent agency that has the authority to certify pursuant to the Standard for Organic Agriculture (CAN/CGSB-32.310) ratified by the Standards Council of Canada.

Foods may also be labeled “100 percent organic,” “organic” (95 to 99 per cent organic), “made with organic ingredients” (74 to 94 per cent organic), or, for organic content of lesser amount, the specific organic ingredients may be listed.



An epidemic of infectious disease that spreads through human populations across a large region, for example a continent, or even worldwide.

Pastured or Pasture-Raised

Indicates the animal was raised on a pasture and that it ate grasses and food found in a pasture, rather than being fattened on grain in a feedlot or barn. Pasturing livestock and poultry is a traditional farming technique that allows animals to be raised in a humane, ecologically sustainable manner. This is basically the same as grass-fed, though the term pasture-raised indicates more clearly that the animal was raised outdoors on pasture. (See Grass-Fed)


Micro-organisms that cause disease.

Peak Oil

Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.


Any substance that causes harm to the environment when it mixes with soil, water, or air.

Precautionary Principle

The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action. The principle aims to provide guidance for protecting public health and the environment in the face of uncertain risks, stating that the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone measures where there is a risk of serious or irreversible harm to public health or the environment.


A viral disease in swine that exists in most parts of the world. It is caused by porcine herpesvirus 1, which is also called pseudorabies virus (PRV) or suid herpesvirus-1 (SHV-1) and is also known as Aujeszky's disease, and in cattle as mad itch. PRV is considered to be the most economically important viral disease of swine in areas where hog cholera has been eradicated.



A proportional share, as of goods, assigned to a group or to each member of a group; an allotment. In the case of certain agricultural products in Canada, a farmer may purchase a quota which allows him to produce a certain amount of the product. This is one way that prices are kept high.


Raised Without the Routine Use of Antibiotics

Antibiotics were not given to the animal to promote growth or to prevent disease, but may have been administered if the animal became ill.


recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also called recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST). This is a genetically engineered hormone that is injected into dairy cows to increase their milk production. rBGH has been banned in Canada, the European Union and elsewhere because of inadequate testing and some evidence that it leads to cancer.

rBGH-Free or rBST

rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) is a genetically engineered growth hormone that is injected into dairy cows to artificially increase their milk production. The hormone has not been properly tested for safety. Milk labeled “rBGH-Free” is produced by dairy cows that never received injections of this hormone. Organic milk is rBGH free. (rBST stands for recombinant bovine somatotropin.)

Right to Farm Legislation

Right to farm legislation and agricultural land zoning have been introduced in many jurisdictions to deal with the decrease of the amount of land that is suitable for growing crops and the inevitable conflicts that arise as farms and subdivisions bump together. The legislation is meant to protect farmers from being sued by their neighbours for the noise, smell, and other nuisances that inevitably happens and to force development onto less viable land leaving the agricultural land protected and productive.

The right to farm is always initially presented by lawmakers as the farsighted protection of a landowner's heritage and the promotion of food security and agricultural viability. The reality is that the legislation is often drafted in a way that ignores the real needs of ‘family farm’ type operations and protects the interests of large agri-business conglomerates to the detriment of neighbouring land owners.

Rotational grazing

The practice of moving animals between two or more paddocks, so that each paddock undergoes a short grazing period followed by a longer rest period. The practice protects pastures from overgrazing and reduces soil erosion.


Ruminants are hooved animals with four-chambered stomachs which enable them to digest cellulose. After eating, ruminants regurgitate a semi-digested material called cud, which they chew, then eat again. Cows, goats, sheep, bison, deer, camels, llamas, and giraffes are all ruminants. These animals eat a pure vegetarian diet.


Water from precipitation or irrigation that flows over the ground and into bodies of water. It can contribute to soil erosion and carry harmful pollutants.



A type of bacteria that causes food poisoning and is commonly found in meat and animal waste, particularly poultry.

Small farm/Family farm

Farms where the day-to-day labor and management is provided by the farmer and/or farm family that owns or leases the production or production equipment. This does not necessarily mean that the farm is organic or cruelty free, or even that it is not controlled by a major agricultural company. Many family farmers have become contract growers.

Socially Responsible Agriculture

Socially responsible activities are those in which the individual(s) profiting from the activity pay(s) all the costs the activity generates and shifts none of those costs to others who will not profit from the activity. So, socially responsible farming would be farming where all the costs of the farm (air and water pollution, etc.) are contained within the farm's boundaries and are not shifted off the farm.


Female pig that has produced a litter of piglets.

Spent hen

A hen that is no longer able to function as a factory egg-producing machine -- usually about two years old. These hens, which frequently have broken bones and badly bruised bodies, are sold cheaply for use in frozen dinners or canned soups, or are discarded.


Land where animal waste from the lagoon is applied. High-powered hoses are used to spray the animal waste up in the air; the waste particles can travel many miles before settling onto the land.


Castrated male cattle.


Below the dosage levels used to treat diseases. E.g.: subtherapeutic feeding of penicillin to livestock. See antibiotics and hormones.


A young animal that is still nursing


An antibiotic-resistant bacteria. One "superbug" is MRSA.

Supply Management

A comprehensive system involving agricultural production quotas, producer marketing boards and import controls used to regulate agricultural products and the prices farmers receive for them.

Surface water

Water that sits or flows above the earth, including lakes, oceans, rivers, and streams.


The ability to provide for the needs of the world's current population without damaging the ability of future generations to provide for themselves. When a process is sustainable, it can be carried out over and over without negative environmental effects or impossibly high costs to anyone involved.


A product can be considered sustainable if its production enables the resources from which it was made to continue to be available for future generations. A sustainable product can thus be created repeatedly without generating negative environmental effects, without causing waste products to accumulate as pollution, and without compromising the wellbeing of workers or communities. Many different agricultural techniques can be utilized to help make food production more sustainable. The drawback of the term ‘sustainable’ is that the term lacks a clear-cut, universally-accepted, enforceable definition - thus it can be interpreted in different ways. It is more of a philosophy or way of life than a label.

Sustainable agriculture

Farming that provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food.



Common factory farm practice of cutting off half or more of an animal's tail, frequently performed on cattle and pigs. This prevents pigs from chewing one another's tails and cattle from hitting workers with manure-covered tails. This is a painful procedure, which is not necessary when animals are not confined since they do not exhibit these behaviors.


A farm or grower who is converting to organic practices but has not yet completed the transition.




Beef from calves that are less than six months old -- usually slaughtered at about 16 weeks of age.

Vertical Integration

Economic term that is often used to describe a trend in the agriculture industry. When an agriculture corporation is vertically integrated, it is involved in more than one phase of meat production. Many of these big businesses have their own feedlots, slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, and distributors, so they have complete control over the lives and deaths of the animals they raise.


A bacteria or infection that is fast-acting, severe, and destructive. For more information, visit our Human Health section.



Water that has been used and thrown away from residential, business or industrial sources. It can contain a variety of waste products like soap, chemicals or manure.


Area of land that contributes runoff to a particular, common body of water. Learn more about watersheds by visiting the The Atlas of Canada - Watersheds


A young animal that has just been weaned (no longer nursing)


A whistleblower is an employee, former employee, or member of an organization, especially a business or government agency, who reports misconduct to people or entities that have the power and presumed willingness to take corrective action. The misconduct may be a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption.

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