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Food Labels:
Improving Your
Grocery Store
We see you looking at those labels and
we like it! In addition to nutrition info
R Regulated/audited by a certifying agency or and ingredient lists, there’s a lot of
independent organization
information on food packaging these
G Unregulated; term is intended as a guideline
days. It can be hard to know what it all
means – especially when it comes to
P Partial regulation; some affiliation with a certain oft-used terms, like organic, cafeverifying/standards body
free and vine-ripened.
100% “vegetarian fed” on meat and egg products, indicates the animal was not fed any animal
byproducts and was raised on grasses, hay, silage and other feed found on a pasture or in a
field. They will also not been given any supplements or additives.
The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act mandates that products containing
milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat must on the ingredient list or via
the word “contains” followed by the name of the major food allergen, or as a parenthetical
statement in the list of ingredients. Product labels also denote that a potential allergen may
have been used in the processing of the food, or may have been processed in the same
manufacturing plant.
Formerly known as the Free Farmed program, this label provides third-party, independent
verification that certified producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the science-based
animal welfare standards of the American Humane Association. Standards require that animals
be raised in ways that minimize stress, and include adequate shelter, comfortable resting areas,
sufficient space, proper facilities and ability to express typical behavior.
Certified by scientists from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, this label is found on coffee
that is organic and meets strict requirements for the amount of shade and the type of forest in
which it is grown. Often called Shade Grown, this term has little weight unless accompanied by
the Bird Friendly label. SMBC supports coffee plantations that provide good bird habitats, such
as maintenance of a tree canopy, diversity in tree and plant species and establishment of plant
borders around streams or rivers.
This label denotes that birds are raised without the use of cages. However, it does not indicate
how crowded or small conditions are or how much free-roaming time birds get. There is no
third-party auditing of the label.
Administered by Humane Farm Animal Care, this label ensures that animals raised for dairy,
lamb, poultry and beef products are treated humanely and with their welfare in mind. The
animals must be allowed to engage in natural behavior and be raised with sufficient space,
shelter and gentle handling. These animals are also provided fresh water and a diet without
added antibiotics or hormones, and producers must comply with a higher standard for
Certified Naturally Grown farms use no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, herbicides,
fungicides, hormones or GMO. Their livestock are raised mostly on pasture, with space for
freedom of movement, and their feed is grown without synthetics.
This label appears on products containing no animal ingredients or byproducts, using no animal
ingredients or byproducts in the manufacturing process and conducting no testing on animals.
Administered by the nonprofit Vegan Awareness Foundation, the program relies on written
statements by companies and suppliers that the product is vegan. Companies renew their
certification annually to ensure no ingredients have changed.
Dolphin Safe tuna must meet a variety of standards, such as no intentional chasing, netting or
encirclement of dolphins for the full duration of a tuna-fishing trip, and no mixing of dolphin-safe
and dolphin-deadly tuna in individual boat wells. Earth Island Institute created the International
Marine Mammal Project to monitor tuna companies worldwide. To date, IMMP has eliminated
dolphin-deadly tuna from 90% of the world’s canned-tuna markets.
Guarantees that farmers receive a fair price for such crops as coffee, tea, cacao, fruit, sugar,
rice and spices. It also means the farms offer safe working conditions, use ecologically
sustainable methods and have access to community development projects. Fair Trade is
certified in the U.S. through Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair USA), an independent thirdparty certifier, which reported that sales of Fair Trade Certified products grew an astounding 75
percent in 2011.
Farm raised fish are nurtured on farms, or net pen in the ocean, rather than caught in their
natural habitat. Farmed fish is believed to be a way to address the growing problem of
overfishing. Environmental Defense, a national advocacy organization, is not a certifying agency
but helps companies establish standards programs.
The Food Alliance label, distinguishes foods produced by farmers, ranchers and food
processors that use environmentally and socially responsible practices. Farms and ranches
must meet standards for providing safe and fair working conditions; ensuring healthy and
humane care for livestock; avoiding hormones and non-therapeutic antibiotics; not genetically
modifying crops or livestock; reducing pesticide use and toxicity; conserving soil and water
resources; and protecting wildlife habitat. The certification applies to beef, lamb, pork, poultry,
dairy, fruit, processed foods, nuts and vegetables, legumes and grains.
Free Range suggests animals were raised in the open air or were free to roam. It does not
necessarily mean that the products are cruelty- or antibiotic-free or that the animals spent a
significant amount of time outdoors. The claim is regulated only on poultry products not on eggs
or other meat. Similar label claims include “Free Roaming” or “Free Running.”
Products sporting this seal have met stringent standards to ensure gluten-free safety and are
certified to contain less than 10 parts per million of gluten. This new certification program is
available from organic certifier Quality Assurance International and the healthcare nonprofit
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Unlike unsubstantiated gluten-free claims on the
market, this certification is science-based and triple-verified through inspections and product
testing. The stringent certification relies on annual inspection, ingredient verification, random
product testing and unannounced audits.
This label indicates animals have been fed grasses from birth to slaughter. Antibiotics may
have been given to treat disease, but not to promote growth or prevent disease. Their feed
did not include grain, animal byproducts or synthetic hormones. The animals must also have
continuous access to pasture during the growing season, with no confinement.
Halal denotes that the food conforms to Muslim dietary laws. A halal certification is provided
by a certified third-party agency. Halal certification involves the inspection of food preparation
practices, processing facilities and food ingredients to ensure that halal standards were met.
American Heart Association’s label means that the food is deemed safe for heart health when
eaten as part of a balanced diet. Foods must comply with existing FDA or USDA requirements
for making a heart-related claim, which means it contains less than 6.5 grams of total fat, 1
gram of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol and 480 milligrams of
sodium per serving, and at least 10% of the recommended daily allowance of nutrients.
Denotes that foods meet the standards of Jewish dietary laws. For more than 80 years, the
Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (OU) has been the leading certifier of kosher foods,
supervising hundreds of thousands of products in more than 90 countries throughout the world.
Other certifiers’ labels include cRc, Star-K, Triangle-K and Kof-k. Next to the agency’s symbol
may be a letter identifying the product’s kosher status: “D” indicates dairy; “M,” meat; “P,” kosher
for Passover.
As North America’s only independent verifier of products made according to best practices
for avoiding genetically modified organisms in the U.S. and Canada, the Non-GMO Project
seal indicates that the product has gone through a strict verification process. It uses an Action
Threshold of 0.9 percent, in alignment with laws in the European Union, where any product
containing more than 0.9 percent GMO must be labeled. Absence of all GMOs is the target for all
compliant products. After verification, rigorous traceability and segregation practices are followed
to ensure ingredient integrity. Verification is maintained through an annual audit, along with on-site
inspections for high-risk products.
Organic foods cannot be grown using synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, sewage sludge,
bioengineering methods or ionizing radiation and cannot contain genetically modified
organisms or be irradiated. For meat, the animals must have been fed only organically
grown feed without animal byproducts and should be free of hormones and antibiotics.
Several types of verbiage and seals are used under the USDA standards: “100%
Organic” indicates that all ingredients are wholly organic; “Organic” means at least
95% of a product’s ingredients are organic; “Made with organic ingredients” applies
to products whose ingredients are at least 70% organic and list up to three organic
ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. Products with less than 70%
organic ingredients may list specific organically produced ingredients on the side panel of
the package, but may not make any organic claims on the front label.
Suggests animals were raised in the open air or were free to roam This certifies
farmers used environmental growing standards known as Biointensive Integrated
Pest Management, a method of pest control less toxic than pesticides. Today, almost
30,000 acres of farmland are certified by Protected Harvest, encompassing wine
grapes, potatoes, mushrooms, stone fruits and citrus. Protected Harvest, a nonprofit
organization, is in the process of developing a certification program for dairy, almonds,
tomatoes and a variety of fresh produce.
This environmental certification for coffee, tea, cacao and fruits denotes the item has
been grown or made sustainably and that workers were treated fairly. Each purchase of a
labeled product helps the Rainforest Alliance preserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable
livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer
behavior. Farms are audited annually and surprise audits are carried out for certified
farms at least once a year.
Farms producing foods that carry the Salmon Safe label have been evaluated by
independent experts who certify the use of agricultural practices that promote healthy
streams and wetlands. These practices include water use, erosion control, chemical
management and proper animal farming, all contributing to restoring stream eco-system
health in native salmon fisheries of the Pacific Northwest.
Almost half of all certified sustainable coffee is now Utz certified. This label stands
for sustainable farming and better opportunities for farmers, their families and the
environment. It assures responsible production and sourcing practices by one of the
largest coffee-certification programs in the world and enables farmers to learn better
farming methods, improve working conditions and take better care of their children and
the environment. The strict requirements for Utz-certified farms and businesses are
closely monitored by independent third parties and audited annually.
This term is not regulated and can usually imply only that the product doesn’t contain
animal-derived ingredients. The products also may or may not have been tested on
animals. Foods with “100% vegetarian ingredients” on the label contain no meat but
may contain eggs or dairy. These marks are not regulated by any labeling law; instead,
consumers can find the most reliable match between labels and their claims on foods that
display logos from organizations such as the Vegetarian Society.
Whole Grain stamp aims to help consumers identify authentic whole-grain foods. There
are two versions of this label: The 100% Whole Grain stamp denotes that the food
contains a full serving (16 grams) or more of whole grains per labeled serving. The socalled basic Whole Grain stamp appears on products containing at least half a serving
(8 grams) of whole grain per labeled serving. Each stamp also shows exactly how many
grams of whole grains are in one serving of a product.