Have you ever wondered what the labels on your food actually mean, how they're regulated, or which ones are best? Here, we're breaking down 13 popular food labels, and what each really mens.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the federal executive department responsible for defining the standards for U.S. organic products from farm to table and for helping organic agriculture and markets grow and thrive. USDA Organic certified implies that applied agricultural methods preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials and genetically modified organisms (GMO). Animals must be fed only by organically grown feed without animal byproducts, should be free of hormones and antibiotics, and must have access to the outdoors.
Demeter Association, Inc. is the U.S. representative of Demeter International responsible for setting the Biodynamic® farm and processing standards. These standards go far beyond any organic certification because the entire farm, versus a specific produce, must be certified in order to keep the farm, the farmer, the consumer, and the earth healthy. In addition, the Biodynamic® principles have a greater focus on the astrological cycles and the soil as the central component of the farm, and the idea of the farm as a living organism within the system, including plants, livestock, and farmers.
The Farm Verified Organic (FVO) program provides organic certification services to enable companies and individuals to market a credible organic product to the consumer. FVO meets the requirements of USDA Organic certification as well as additional international requirements for IFOAM accreditation. Accordingly, FVO meets the import requirements into the European Union as well.
Quality Assurance International (QAI) is a certification company that verifies organic growers, processors, traders, and distributers worldwide according to USDA Organic standards. It aims to promoting a healthier planet by advocating certified organic production.
Certified Naturally Grown is a grassroots alternative to USDA’s National Organic Program and meant primarily for direct-market farmers and beekeepers, distributing through local channels such as farmer’s markets; roadside stands, local restaurants, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and small local grocery. The standards are based on the ideals of the organic movement: working in harmony with nature, without using synthetic chemicals or GMOs.
California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) is an organic certification agency and trade association that supports and promotes organic food and agriculture through education and advocacy. Buying organic is considered as a direct investment in our planet’s future. Thus, CCOF works to grow the organic market and its members’ businesses by educating consumers about this important relationship to food.
Oregon Tilth is a certifier, educator and advocator of organic agriculture and products complying with USDA Organic standards. It beliefs that organic certification should ensure that the agreed conventions of organic agricultural systems are being practiced by all the people, who handle and process organic food, feed and fiber on its journey to the consumer.
Non-GMO Project offers independent verification of testing and GMO controls for products in the U.S. and Canada. It works to protecting non-GMO products, educating and to providing informed non-GMO choices. Hence, the seal on a product implies that the product has been produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance, including testing of risk ingredients.
Fairtrade International is a certification organization that focuses on an ethical trade system, putting people first. It offers farmers and workers in developing countries a better deal, and the opportunity to improve their lives and invest in their future. Thus, it gives consumers the opportunity to help reduce poverty and initiate change through everyday shopping. The FAIRTRADE Certification label generally means that producers and traders have met social, environmental and economic criteria as well progress requirements and terms of international trade.
Fair Trade USA is a certification organization separated from Fairtrade International that has also a market-based approach. By setting the standards, certifying, and labeling products Fair Trade in the United States, it ensures that farmers receive fair prices, workers are given fair wages, and enables more direct access to the global market.
The Fair Labor Practice and Community Benefits certification – developed by Scientific Certification System as Fair Trade USA’s exclusive certification partner – validates socially responsible practices in the agricultural industry worldwide. This certification program ensures: equitable hiring and employment practices, safe workplace conditions, access to health, education and transportation services, addressing local community impacts, community engagement and economic stability.
The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) developed the Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free symbol. The label assures no animal tests were used in the development of the certified product.
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) audits, certifies and supports family farmers practicing high-welfare husbandry outdoors on pastures or ranges in accordance with USDA. The label is designed for meat, eggs and dairy products of these farms and guarantees that the products are from animals treated with high welfare and managed with the environment in mind.
Written by Elisa Zölls
Elisa recently moved to the U.S. from Germany, where she had grown a passion for the organic and biodynamic food sectors while working at Demeter International. She helped coordinate and develop their customer publication, "The Demeter Journal", in addition to the agricultural association's charity and community programs. Elisa has worked with all the major players in the organic market space in Germany and hopes her international sourcing background will help introduce more biodynamic products to North America.