Deciphering food label logos


You see them on every box of food you pick up, especially if your diet and lifestyle requires it.

Labels — we are bombarded by them every day. But what do they really mean? You may not even know some of these labels that help us make more conscientious choices with food practices:

Certified Vegan: Backed by the nonprofit Vegan Action, this logo, a circle with a letter V in a heart, asserts that the product neither contains nor uses any animal ingredients or byproducts in its manufacture, and contains no ingredients that have been tested on animals. It also is used to label clothes and cosmetics. The nonprofit relies on written statements from companies but it also can require lab tests and will contact suppliers and manufactures with questions.

Fair Trade Certified: Expressed as a dual-colored person holding two bowls with a world image behind all in a rectangle box, this icon guarantees that the growers received a fair and about-market price. Fair Trade standards also push for sustainable farming and forbid child labor and the use of harmful pesticides. It is commonly associated with coffee, tea and cocoa. TransFair USA, which is a member of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, certifies and audits all companies under this logo in the United States and its suppliers.

American Humane Certified: This label, administered by the American Humane Association, ensures that the producers allow farm animals to freely engage in normal behaviors, such as wing stretching for laying hens, and employs only trained handlers to tend to them. It is pictured as a sun coming up over a side of a barn, which is in a circle, with another jagged circle surrounding with the label’s name. It also indicates that these animals weren’t raised in cages. To get this label, independent auditors conduct inspections before issuing a certificate, and after that, the farm must undergo annual audits to prove its continuous adherence to the standards.

Food Alliance Certified: The nonprofit Food Alliance — which looked like two circles, one smaller with a farm scene inside a black circle with the labels words — certifies food producers for a variety of sustainable practices, including safe and fair working conditions, reduced pesticide use, water and energy conservation, and wildlife-habitat protection. Rejection of the use of hormones and antibiotics also is on its list. Certified members are required to set improvement goals and show yearly progress. Additionally, farmers cannot grow genetically modified crops. Food Alliance employs a third-party inspection agency to regularly audit its participating members.

Rainforest Alliance Certified: This label from a nonprofit, Rainforest Alliance, guarantees socially and environmentally responsible management and is all about sustainable agriculture. It is pictured as a black frog inside a circle, which is inside another jagged black circle with the wording surrounding it. More than 31,000 farms in 22 countries comply, and the alliance holds its members accountable for decent wages, soil and water conservation, and the use of pesticides as a last option. The alliance relies on the Sustainable Agriculture Network as well as independent agencies to evaluate and award certification.

Dolphin Safe: Manufactures under this label are regulated by the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act. The manufacturers cannot label tuna “dolphin safe” if fisherman deliberately or accidentally encircle or kill dolphins with nets. The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission performs onboard inspections of fishing practices within the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, the primary region where dolphins and tuna swim together. In 2000, the U.S. government designed its own dolphin-safe logo — which is a circle containing a dolphin with a water image and the “U.S. Department of Commerce” words — and encourages, but does not require, companies to adopt it.

Published in Food & Drink

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