Food manufacturers are nearly falling over themselves to apply eco-labels to their products. But how do you separate the meaningful from the marketing? A seal’s credibility depends on whether standards are clear, rigorous and uniform, and an independent third party certifies the product meets those standards. Here’s a list of some established green labels and some promising newcomers. 

USDA Organic

Animals get grass and organic, all-vegetarian feed, no growth hormones, and no antibiotics (sick animals are treated and removed from the program). Access to pasture is required, but pasturing isn’t guaranteed. Crops are grown without most conventional synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, or genetic modification.

ams.usda.gov/NOP

Demeter Biodynamic

Certifies biodynamic farms that reject synthetics and are managed holistically, with practices such as making compost by burying a cow horn filled with manure.

demeter-usa.org

Food Alliance

Label on produce, grain and animal products specifies reduced pesticides, habitat protection, and worker welfare and that livestock is pastured and eats vegetarian with no hormones. Sick animals are treated with antibiotics and stay in program. 

foodalliance.org

Certified Humane Raised and Handled

Certifies that animals eat grass and vegetarian feed with no hormones. Antiobiotics are given to sick livestock. Humane shelter, space and handling is required, but pasturing is not. 

certifiedhumane.org

American Grassfed Association

Ruminants can eat only grass and hay and must spend most of their lives on pasture. No hormones or antibiotics are allowed. This seal and the next two are truly “free range,” unlike the vague label bearing that name.

americangrassfed.org

Animal Welfare Approved

Only independent farms qualify. Livestock eat all vegetarian and live mostly outdoors. Hormones aren’t allowed; antibiotics can be used for sick animals, who are kept in the program.

animalwelfareapproved.org

Rainforest Alliance Certified

Tropical fruit, coffee, and chocolate are grown in ways that protect water, soil, habitat and community health. 

rainforestalliance.org

Fair Trade Certified

Ensures that small-scale farmers and farm workers receive fair prices, fair wages and humane working conditions, with no forced child labor.

transfairusa.org, fairtrade.net

Marine Stewardship Council

Certifies that seafood comes from sustainable and well-managed wild fisheries. 

msc.org

Carbonfund.org

Helps businesses calculate and offset their greenhouse gas emissions; Monarch Beverages, Royal Hawaiian Honey and Florida Crystals’ organic sugars are a few products that bear this label.

carbonfund.org

Carbon Trust

This British seal measures greenhouse gas emissions over a product’s lifecycle. Labeled foods include Walker’s potato chips and orange juice and potatoes in Tesco supermarkets; these may be introduced in the company’s Fresh & Easy stores in the U.S. 

carbontrust.co.uk

Story by Nathalie Jordi. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008