Shopping for sustainably grown foods can be confusing because of all the different terms and jargon that companies use to market their foods. Some of their claims are backed by certification systems, and some aren’t verified by anyone at all. Here’s an overview of some of the major labels and certifications out there:
Organic products contain no genetically modified organisms, and are produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers, or any other prohibited substance.
CNG is a grassroots, peer-reviewed alternative to organic certification. Georgia has a well-developed CNG scene. To find great CNG farmers near you, check out this list!
Fair Trade guarantees that companies pay workers and farmers a fair wage, use environmentally safe practices, and provide safe working conditions. It also supplies community development funds to provide training and resources.
This certification verifies that the growers and farmers use socially and environmentally responsible practices. It can apply to anything from beauty products to food.
(AWA) certification requires audited, high-welfare slaughter practices and living conditions. They require pasture access and only certify family farms. AWA provides an objective measurement of the humane-ness of an animal product.
This means that the product contains no genetically modified organisms. All ingredients that are already grown commercially in genetically modified forms must be tested prior to use.
Terms You Should Know
The Food and Drug Administration has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
From the USDA: “The naturally raised marketing claim standard states that livestock used for the production of meat and meat products have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control), and have never been fed animal by-products.” But as Animal Welfare Approved notes, “nowhere does this definition mention pasture (or even outdoor access!), genetic engineering, or physical mutilation (like tail-docking and beak-trimming).”
There are no legal standards in “free-range” egg production. Typically, free-range hens are uncaged inside barns or warehouses and have some degree of outdoor access, but there are no requirements for the amount, duration or quality of outdoor access. There are no restrictions regarding what the birds can be fed. Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. There is no third-party auditing.
The USDA allows for any chicken raised with access to the outdoors to be labeled “free-range”. Nowhere does it state that the chickens have to actually go outdoors; ACCESS is the only legal binding verbiage of that rule. They may still be raised in the same overpopulated poultry house type production and be labeled “free-range.” Certified organic chickens may also be raised like this.
As the term implies, hens laying eggs labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but they generally do not have access to the outdoors. They can engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting and spreading their wings. Beak cutting is permitted. There is no third-party auditing.