10 Product Labels That Don't Mean Organic
Don't confuse all the many buzz labels out there with the USDA Organic Seal
Susan Zucker , Editor | May 16, 2014
Title: Editor
Topic category: Green living

It’s just too easy to read a food label that says “Natural” or “Hormone-Free” and assume it’s “Organic”. But this article from Jennifer Chait explains how common labels that we think are organic are actually not. However, that’s not to say that they’re not eco-friendly foods, but forewarned is forearmed. Know what the labeling actually means and you’ll be able to make smarter, greener choices.

With all the popular "eco-minded" food labels and terms out there right now it's no surprise people are confused. Many consumers mix up the official USDA Organic Seal with other, non-certified labels, or assume that some of these labels overlap. However, right now, the only real organic label in the United States is the USDA Organic Seal. Without this seal, it's unclear if a product is truly organic or not.

Now, just because a product label doesn't mean organic, that doesn't make the label bad or non-useful. Many of the labels below are very important in their own ways, they're just not the same as organic:

1. Locally Grown
2. Sustainable
3. Natural
4. Free-Range
5. Biodynamic
6. Hormone-Free
7. Fair Trade
8. Biodegradable
9. FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified
10. Non-GMO (genetically modified organism)

1. Locally Grown

Is there an official Locally Grown label?

No. Usually locally grown products bear simply a "locally grown" statement or the producer themselves will tell you that the product is locally grown.

What products is this label commonly used with?

Locally Grown is used for all sorts of food products from produce to eggs to meats to jams and much more. Locally grown is even applied to non-food products in some cases, for example textiles, cleaners, body care products and even products made with wood.

How useful is this label?

The statement that a product is locally grown, or even simply, "local" is only semi-useful. Locally grown food is not officially defined or monitored, although some states do set limits on what can be called "local." In most cases though, unless you specifically ask, it's unclear if a local food product is defined as local by distance to market, state or city borders, or other regional boundaries. Various markets and sellers also set their own definition of local.

With so many individual definitions in the mix, local is not well-defined and thus, isn't very useful as a stand-alone statement. What can make the statement useful is the addition of more information. For example, a product label that states, "Grown and sold locally in Milbridge, ME" is far more useful than, "Locally grown."

How is this label connected to organics?

Often local food is grown organically, but that's the only connection. Just because a product is organic, it doesn't mean that product is local and likewise, local food is not always organic. Ideally to eat ethically, safely and responsibly, consumers would strive for both local and organics, but that's not always the case.

2. Sustainable

Is there an official Sustainable label?

No. Sustainable is a term that's applied to labels of food and other products, as well as company practices, but it's not a real, certified term. Often times, a company will use this term not on a product, but in press material about their company.

What products is this label commonly used with?

Everything you can imagine from food to clothing to building supplies and more.

How useful is this label?

The term 'sustainable' is misused so often that it's not very useful for consumers anymore. Sustainable could mean anything. Sure, it could mean good things, such as it may define a product that really is more energy efficient or it could mean that a company ethically offsets carbon and uses all recycled packaging.

Sadly, 'sustainable' may also mean that the company once bought some recycled paper or that amid all their bleach containing products they sell just one safer, less toxic product.

There's no doubt that sustainable practices and products are a good deal for people and the earth, but simply saying a company is sustainable, without backing up why, means very little.

How is this label connected to organics?

Organic production is naturally somewhat sustainable due to certain NOP rules. Still, there are few NOP policies that mandate specific sustainable practices. Sustainable and organic can be interchangeable, if a company decides to be both organic and eco-friendly, but as a general rule these terms do not mean the same thing.

3. Natural

Is there an official Natural label?

No. The term 'natural' is used on product packaging, but there's no across the board label. That said, The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does somewhat mandate what products may bear or not bear this term.

What products is this label commonly used with?

The term natural is often used on food products but it's also extremely popular as a key term on body care products, cleaning products and toys.

How useful is this label?

Natural is one of the least useful and most confusing terms used for products. First of all, when it comes to food, The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) somewhat monitors the use of the term 'natural,' stating that a product labeled as natural cannot contain artificial ingredient or added color and the product can only be minimally processed. However, these rules are a far cry from sound regulations and they only apply to edible products, not other consumer products that may be labeled, such as toys or body care.

On top of not being well regulated, this term is false in that "naturally" labeled products may contain synthetic ingredients. Worst of all though is the fact that this term has the ability to confuse consumers who often see this term and think they're getting a safer, more ethical or healthier product, when they're not. Luckily consumers are catching on and many say they no longer trust the term natural.

How is this label connected to organics?

The term natural is not related to organics at all. Natural is a term mainly used to market products as more healthy, safe or ethical to consumers but there's almost zero regulations to back any of these claims up. At worst, this term is used to greenwash products that are clearly not healthy, safe or ethical. Certified organic food must adhere to strict guidelines and is proven safer for people and the planet.

Click here to read the entire article “10 Product Labels That Don’t Mean Organic:

Jennifer Chait |Dec 1, 2011
Tags: Organic, natural, USDA, free-range, locally grown, biodegradable, sustainable, Fair Trade, biodynamic, hormone-free, Non-GMO, FSC Certified
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