Organic, locally grown, fair trade, what does it all mean? Become more informed in your meal planning by following this food-label decoder.
Fair Trade Certified: This international certification guarantees that working conditions, wages, and prices meet FLO-CERT standards. This ensures that farmers and farm workers are being paid “fair” prices for their products. These standards are put into place to alleviate poverty in developing countries. By offering better trading conditions, the Fair Trade Certification also contributes to sustainable development. For a product to become Fair Trade Certified, its producers must be certified by FLO-CERT, ensuring that employees receive minimum wages and there is no child or forced labor.
Organic: According to the USDA organic food “is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Other organic labels that you can trust: Aurora Certified Organic, Certified Organic, Inc., Global Organic Alliance, Guaranteed Organic Certification Agency, NMOCC Certified Organic, and Quality Assurance International.
Certified Naturally Grown: This is an alternative to the USDA organic program that guarantees organic growing practices and local farming. The Certified Naturally Grown farmers must agree to sell their products to local restaurants and grocery stores. This food label is monitored through investigations by other CNG farmers and randomly given tests that determine product pesticides. To purchase local products that do not have the “Certified Naturally Grown” label, you can visit a farmers’ market or shop for produce that is in season. If you shop local, ask the farmer how their product is farmed to assure that their food meets USDA organic standards, as described above.
Natural: Natural is not carefully monitored by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) and should therefore be ignored. Additionally, the “rules” for natural are vague, resulting in a misleading label. Instead of relying on the word “natural,” look at the food ingredients yourself! Make sure there’s no food coloring, preservatives, additives, or modifications. In general, the less ingredients, the better.
Grass-fed: Feedlot-fattened animals have higher levels of saturated fat then forage-fed animals. This is because grass is low in starch and high in protein and fiber, in contrast to carbohydrate-intensive, low-fiber corn and soybeans. Therefore, animals who have a diet based wholly on grass produce meat with lower saturated fat and higher omega-3 fatty acids. This label is monitored by the USDA and can be certified through a American Grassfed Certification. The American Grassfed Association guarantees that food is produced from animals that were a) fed a lifetime diet of 100% forage, b) animals were raised on pasture, not in confinement, and c) animals were never treated with hormones or antibiotics.
Here are some misleading labels that are better ignored:
-Good source of fiber
-Made with real fruit
-Made with whole grains
-Strengthens your immune system
Reading labels is a bit tricky, but if you stay informed and do your research, you will be eating healthier. Always take a second look at ingredients in your packaged food to make sure that the product is really “made with whole grains,” for example. For produce, keep your eyes peeled for the organic certifications listed above. And for meat, if you’re a meat-lover, try purchasing grass-fed and certified meat. Carefully ready your labels to both look better, and eat better.
James Kim is a guest writer for foodonthetable.com. Food on the Table is a company that provides online budget meal planning services. Their goal is to help families eat better and save money.
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