What organic labels really mean

This guide to third-party certification for claims like organic will help you understand the meaning behind eco-friendly seals on food packaging. "Natural" food claims don't mean much compared to these official seals and labels, according to green nutritionist Kate Geagan.
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Certified organic spinach
USDA

USDA Certified Organic

WHAT THE LABEL MEANS
Products are certified by the National Organic Program to be at least 95 percent organic, which means no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, genetic engineering, irradiation or antibiotics.

WHAT THE LABEL DOESN'T MEAN
Though the ingredients are healthily grown, organic doesn't translate to "diet food," so check nutrition facts on packages.

MCS Certified Sustainable Seafood

Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified Sustainable Seafood

WHAT THE LABEL MEANS
The seafood comes from fisheries that are sustainably managed and don't contribute to overfishing. MSC also certifies the phrase "wild-caught" on packaging, so spotting the seal is one of the best ways to guarantee it really is. Whole Foods and Walmart carry many different products with this seal.

WHAT THE LABEL DOESN'T MEAN
MSC certification isn't a green light to "all you can eat." The broader the variety of bivalves, crustaceans and fish you purchase, the less pressure you'll put on any particular species.

Food Alliance seal

Food Alliance Certified (FAC)

WHAT THE LABEL MEANS
Requirements can be even tougher than USDA Organic: strict standards for safe and fair working conditions; humane animal treatment; pesticide reduction; and soil, water and wildlife habitat conservation. Growth hormones, certain antibiotics, GMOs and artificial additives are also prohibited.

WHAT THE LABEL DOESN'T MEAN
Unlike USDA Organic, FAC doesn't require 100 percent organic feed for animals or 100 percent organic pest management. However, the farming practices have been shown to reduce the amount of pesticides needed in the first place.

BEF seal

The Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF)

WHAT THE LABEL MEANS
This seal indicates that a company has purchased Renewable Energy Certificates, carbon offsets or Water Restoration Certificates in order to reduce the environmental impact of their products.

 

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