The Conscious Guide to Food Labels and Certifications

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I’ll bet you love food.

What a coincidence, me too.

Let’s talk about it.

First and foremost, food should always taste good so that we actually enjoy the daily ritual of stuffing our face holes.

But more importantly, it should keep us alive. I mean, biologically speaking, food’s sole purpose is to fuel our bodies with nutrients that maintain and improve our bodies’ biological processes.

If we eat high quality, nutrient-dense, non-toxic and natural foods, then our bodies should run effectively and efficiently. If we eat toxic, unnatural, highly processed and nutrient-deficient foods, then our bodies can respond with sluggishness, low energy, sickness, disease or sometimes the D word.

No, not “the D”, pervert. Death.

If we want to live healthy, long and prosperous lives (physically, that is), then it all starts with food. There’s no greater medicine than food. Hell, the “Father of Medicine” Hippocrates even said it over 2,400 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

He lived to be 90 years old when I’d imagine the average age of death around that time was like, 35 years old.

So, there’s that.

All this being said, we have a food system that provides accessible, good tasting high quality food if we want it. Many food companies are also becoming more socially responsible. Conscious business choices are being made to take care of people and the planet, and consequently higher quality, safer and more nutritious products are being made.

Sourcing can be done more responsibly, sustainably, ethically and transparently, and we now have food labels/certifications that denote various standards that are being upheld in the sourcing and production of our foods.

By supporting brands that adhere to the certifications below, we vote for a better world and positively change our food system.

Let’s check them out:


 

ALL INDUSTRIES

CERTIFIED B CORPORATION
Applies to:
Products from any industry
Certifying Body:
B Lab
Website: https://bcorporation.net/

“Certified B Corporations are a new kind of business that balances purpose and profit. They are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This is a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good.”


 

HEALTH / ANIMAL WELFARE / ENVIRONMENT

USDA ORGANIC
Applies to: Produce, Meat, Dairy, Eggs, Condiments,
Beverages, Processed Foods
Certifying Body: U.S. Department of Agriculture
Website: https://www.usda.gov/topics/organic

The U.S. standard for organic certification and most popular logo seen on U.S. organic food packaging.

“The National Organic Program (NOP) is a regulatory program housed within the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. [They’re] responsible for developing national standards for organically-produced agricultural products. Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.”

Check out the standards here.

CCOF CERTIFIED ORGANIC
Applies to:
Produce, Meat, Dairy, Eggs, Condiments,
Beverages, Processed Foods
Certifying Body:
CCOF Certification Services
Website:
https://www.ccof.org/

CCOF is a nonprofit organization that “advances organic agriculture for a healthy world through organic certification, education, advocacy, and promotion.”

As a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA), they’re authorized to certify farms and businesses to the USDA organic regulations. The Certified CCOF Organic logo is applied along with the USDA Organic logo on a product.

OREGON TILTH (OTCO)
Applies to: Produce, Meat, Dairy, Eggs, Condiments,
Beverages, Processed Foods
Certifying Body: Oregon Tilth Certified Organic
Website: https://tilth.org/

OTCO “work(s) to make our food and agriculture biologically sound and socially equitable. When Oregon Tilth started out, sustainable agriculture and organic weren’t familiar buzzwords. Forty years later, [their] core initiatives of certification, education, and advocacy continue to shape food systems that benefit people and planet, together.”

As a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA), they’re authorized to certify farms and businesses to the USDA organic regulations. The Oregon Tilth logo is applied along with the USDA Organic logo on a product.

QUALITY ASSURANCE INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIED ORGANIC
Applies to: Produce, Meat, Dairy, Eggs, Condiments,
Beverages, Processed Foods
Certifying Body: Quality Assurance International
Website: http://www.qai-inc.com/

This is one of the most widely seen certified organic logos on food packaging.

QAI is “committed to supporting vibrant communities and protecting our environment by providing access to organic food and products”.

As a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA), they’re authorized to certify farms and businesses to the USDA organic regulations. The Quality Assurance International Certified Organic logo is applied along with the USDA Organic logo on a product.

THE NON-GMO PROJECT
Applies to: Produce, Meat, Dairy, Eggs, Condiments,
Beverages, Processed Foods
Certifying Body: The Non-GMO Project
Website: https://www.nongmoproject.org/

I consider this a big step below organic. Certified organic food is always non-GMO along with higher standards across the board.

Non-GMO Project Verified can still contain all of the toxins used in conventional agriculture and doesn’t account for animal welfare.

“The Non-GMO Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices.

A GMO, or genetically modified organism, is a plant, animal, microorganism or other organism whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

MSC CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
Applies to: All seafood
Certifying Body: Marine Stewardship Council
Website: https://www.msc.org/

“The Marine Stewardship Council is an international non-profit organization. [Their] mission is to use [their] ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood and working with [their] partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.”

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“DOLPHIN SAFE”
This logo/certification is bullshit, useless, and dangerous.
Read why here.
Check out this tuna shopping guide.

CERTIFIED HUMANE RAISED & HANDLED
Applies to: Farm Animals (Meat, Milk, Eggs)
Certifying Body: Humane Farm Animal Care
Website: https://certifiedhumane.org/

Many may say that true animal welfare is abstaining from meat completely, and they’re right. But the vast majority of the world eats meat, so it’s important for those who do to support a more humane system.

“Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) is the leading non-profit certification organization dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals in food production from birth through slaughter. The goal of the program is to improve the lives of farm animals by driving consumer demand for kinder and more responsible farm animal practices.”

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CERTIFIED ANIMAL WELFARE APPROVED
Applies to: Farm Animals (Meat, Milk, Eggs)
Certifying Body: A Greener World (AGW)
Website: https://agreenerworld.org/

“Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW is the only label that guarantees animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range for their entire lives on an independent farm using truly sustainable, high-welfare farming practices. It is the only label in the U.S. to require audited, high-welfare production, transport and slaughter practices, and has the single highest impact on consumer purchasing of any food label.”

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GLOBAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIP
Applies to: Farm Animals (Meat, Milk, Eggs)
Certifying Body: Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
Website: https://globalanimalpartnership.org/

“GAP is making a difference by creating and managing a comprehensive 5-Step® Welfare Rating Program for farm animals, where farms & ranches are audited every 15 months by an independent third-party. Through [their] 5-Step® Rating Program and labeled product program, producers and consumers can choose to support a program that continuously improves the lives of farm animals step by step.”

CERTIFIED VEGAN
Applies to: Farm Animals, Processed Foods, Beverages
Certifying Body: Vegan Action/Vegan Awareness Foundation
Website: https://vegan.org/

Vegan products are completely cruelty-free and arguably the most sustainable food option.

“Vegan Action is a nonprofit organization working to eliminate animal suffering, reduce environmental impacts, and improve human health.”


 

HUMAN WELFARE / ANIMAL WELFARE / ENVIRONMENT

RAINFOREST ALLIANCE CERTIFIED
Applies to: Processed Foods, Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Beverages, Condiments, Produce, Flowers, Paper, Hotels, Tour Operators
Certifying Body: Rainforest Alliance
Website: https://www.rainforest-alliance.org/

“Fair for Life Certification assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of production, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and smallholder farmers receive a fair share. Fair trade improves the livelihood of thousands of smallholder farmers and workers by providing the means for social community projects and empowerment of people.”


 

HUMAN WELFARE / ENVIRONMENT

FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED
Applies to: Processed Foods, Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Beverages, Seafood, Produce, Condiments, Nuts & Seeds, Flowers
Certifying Body: Fair Trade USA
Website: https://www.fairtradecertified.org/

“Fair Trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations putting people and planet first.

Fair Trade USA believes that everyone wants to do what’s right – for their families, fellow global citizens, and the planet. That’s why [they’re] committed to making the right choices the most obvious ones.

Based on the simple idea that the products we buy and sell are connected to the livelihoods of others, Fair Trade is a way to make a conscious choice for a better world. A choice for Fair Trade Certified™ goods is a choice to support responsible companies, empower farmers, workers, and fishermen, and protect the environment.”

FAIR FOR LIFE
Applies to: Processed Foods, Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, Beverages, Produce, Nuts & Seeds, Flowers
Certifying Body: Fair For Life
Website: http://www.fairforlife.org/

“Fair for Life Certification assures that human rights are safeguarded at any stage of production, workers enjoy good and fair working conditions and smallholder farmers receive a fair share. Fair trade improves the livelihood of thousands of smallholder farmers and workers by providing the means for social community projects and empowerment of people.”

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FAIRTRADE INTERNATIONAL CERTIFIED
Applies to: Produce, Cocoa, Coffee, Tea, Beverages, Cotton, Sugar, Honey, Rice, Spices and Herbs, Flowers, Wine
Certifying Body: Fair Trade International
Website: https://www.fairtrade.net/

“The FAIRTRADE Marks are the globally recognized symbols of the international Fairtrade system. When you buy products with any of the FAIRTRADE Marks, you support farmers and workers as they improve their lives and their communities. Products bearing these Marks meet the internationally-agreed social, environmental and economic Fairtrade Standards.”

 

FURTHER READING

The importance of living and shopping sustainably.