Know your food labels

Staying informed is the best way to stay on top of new labels (and marketing terms)

Staying informed is the best way to stay on top of new labels (and marketing terms)

For Earth Day, we think it’s a good time to explore not only where our food comes from, but how its origins are communicated to us when we shop.

As consumers demand more transparency, food labels have only grown more baffling. What are “natural” potato chips? Was that “fresh” halibut previously frozen?

Here are just a few of the most prominent claims and labels you’ll see in the grocery aisles and what they mean.

Natural

The FDA has no working definition of the word and allows it on packaging as long as the product does not contain “added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Pesticides and herbicides used while growing ingredients are fair game. So are GMOs.

Fresh

The USDA only regulates this term for poultry. Food and Water Watch notes that raw poultry can be labeled “fresh” only if it has remained above 26 degrees Fahrenheit. For all other products, the word is unregulated.

Certified USDA Organic

The USDA Certified Organic label indicates soil is free of most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Animals eat organic feed (and forage) and have not been treated with antibiotics or hormones. All organic food is also non-GMO.

Non-GMO

The Non-GMO Project Verified label is a third-party verification that helps shoppers who are concerned about genetically modified foods. The label indicates that the product has been vetted by the organization as one with minimal risk of GMO contamination.

Fair Trade

The Fair Trade Certified label is a third-party certification indicating that a product is socially and environmentally responsible. Fair Trade standards center on economic empowerment of producers and environmentally sustainable growing practices.

Staying informed is the best way to stay on top of new labels (and marketing terms), but it’s a shifting landscape. In future newsletters, we’ll take a look at some more obscure labels and claims to help us all make more informed decisions about our food.

Additional Reading:

https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/about/live-healthy/consumer-labels