We have all seen them in the grocery store, so he is a shortlist of some of the most common certification symbols that accompany food products.

Please keep in mind that these symbols are certifications meaning that a third party, other than the farmer/producer has deemed the product to meet the standards that are associated with a particular certification. Such certifications are meant to assure that the product you are buying is in fact fair trade/organic/etc.  However, be open minded. Speaking of organic specifically, many smaller farms, such as those at farmer’s market do not use commercial pesticides and are technically ‘organic’.Many farmers cannot pay the cost of being a certified farm, and will not carry the certification symbol.

Ask around… farmers take much pride in their work and will be more than happy to chat to you about how they grow their food… if you’re lucky…they may even take you on a tour of their farm! We had the opportunity to do this at Sunholm Farms, a medium-sized certified organic farm in Ethel Ontario where we were able to catch dairy calves having dinner! Plus their eggs are amazing, if you are ever have the opportunity, please check them out!

A few of Sunholm Farms' dairy calves

I will try to include as many as I can, but if I miss any, feel free to add!

       Certified Fair Trade

Quick & Dirty: This certification symbol is used on products (most commonly coffee, chocolate, shea/caocao butter, bananas) to show the customer that the farmers who have grown the item have been paid a ‘fair’ wage and worked under decent working conditions.

A few more ideas…

This certification has come about in response to questions about the working conditions of some of or most treasured items (coffee! chocolate!), as these items need to be grown in warm climates such as Africa, Niquraguay and Chile, and in huge quantites to fill US and Canadian demand (… imagine a meeting without coffee?). To avoid too much detail here, many of the farmers growing coffee in less developed places around the world are undercut by Canadian/American companies. If they get their product for less, they make more money at the end of the day. Fair Trade Certification ensures that the farmers producing the coffee/chocolate etc. are being paid decently. Although what exactly a ‘decent’ wage means is debatable, more can be found at my upcoming page on Fair Trade/Direct Trade Certifications: Pros, Cons & Unknowns.

 Rainforest Alliance Certified

Quick & Dirty: Certification means that the product is grown in a manner that pays attention to environmental impact, the well-being of farmers, both personally and economically.

A few more ideas…

Rainforest alliance certification is based on what the organisation calls ‘three pillars’ of “environmental protection, social equity and economic viability” (Rainforest Alliance) as a way to promote overall well-being of farmer and planet. This organisation is also involved in a number of other ventures from tourism to forest management, so dipping into agriculture makes good business sense. This symbol is often seen on coffee, and tea and again overlaps with many ideas expressed in many other types of certifications seen here.

 Certified Organic

Quick & Dirty: A Certified Organic logo shows the customer that the item bearing this label is ‘organic’.While each certifier’s standards differ, generally speaking this means that the product has been grown with little to no pesticides. This also shows that the plant/animal has not been grown/feed from a genetically modified seed.

A few more ideas…

But there are a few things to keep in mind. The word ‘organic’ can actually mean anything that is living, or that has been alive at some point. So … everything from bacteria and mold to trees and humans can technically be considered organic. However, this bit here is refering to certified organic products.

Be sure to read the label carefully too – some food products, especially the (now) huge assortment of pre-packed certifed oganic foods bearing a certification label may only contain some cerfied organic items. Companies will clearly display one of the numerous types of certifed organic logos on the front of their package, while including only a percentage (%) or selected variety of ACTUALLY certified organic product. To add futher doubt when in the grocery store, be sure to watch for items that have the word ‘organic’ on the label, but lack a certification symbol. Hygeine products seem to be particularily bad for this type of misleading advertisement. The product may be fine, and contain organic essesences (eg. lavendar, aloe – *keep in mind the meaning that this includes anything living*) but may still contain pesticides.

 Marine Stewardship Council Certified

Quick & Dirty: This certification symbol is attahced to seafood products and shows consumers that the fish has been caught in a sustainable way so to not threaten fish stocks.

A few more ideas…

This certification was created between Unilever and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) in 1997 as a way  to monitor and promote ‘healthier’ seafood harvesting practices in response to overfishing and fish stock collapse. For a bit of Canadiana, the collapse of the cod fisheries serves as an example. Numerous fishing communities in Grand Banks Newfoundland and Labrador, were abolished when the cod stock collapsed to near extinction due to overfishing. Fish products bearing this label are harvested according to various guidelines (like many of the others listed here) and meant to ensure the continutation of that particular species of fish. MSC certification boards will also not certify aquaculture or farmed fish.

 Local Food Plus (LFP) Certification

Quick & Dirty: A Toronto based organisation that “certifies farmers and processors who actively support local purchases and sales, animal and farm worker well-being, energy-efficient practice, safe pestcides, no-GE [genetic engineering], and working landscapes respectful of biodiversity” as quoted on page 157 of Wayne Roberts’ book The No Non-Sense Guide to World Food (as it is Wayne Roberts’ wife who ‘invented’ this organisation).  More information on Wayne Roberts can be found on his blog http://wayneroberts.ca/

My take: This is a ‘newer’ certification which permits a ‘best practice’ approach, meaning that each of the points that LFP aims to integrate is not as fully considered as say organic certification specifically, but because it considers a wide range of ‘ethical’ points, the consumer (you) may be able to purchase a well-rounded and morally sound item if it bears the label above.

 Bird Friendly

Quick & Dirty:  Put in motion by the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Centre, this certification is usually found on coffee. It shows customers that the coffee beans have been grown in a way that does not affect the migratory patterns of many species of birds that share the trees the beans are grown on.

A few more ideas…

Once again, there is a bit of overlap with many of the other certifications (less pestcides = more happy birds ). Although the certication symbol shows birds, other wildlife benefits too. This is also closely linked to  ‘Shade Grown’ certification, and Conservation Grade certification efforts as all three promote biodiversity (basically maintaing a happy, healthy balance between people and the planet).

 Conservation Grade and Nature Friendly Farming

Quick & Dirty: This is less popular form of certification than some of the above. I first saw it on a box of granola and it didn’t actually bear any symbol but just a blurb on the box…Anyway, this symbol displays a commitment by farmers to devote a percentage of their farmland to ‘wildlife habitat creation’. Basically allowing a section of their land to overgrow to  host native plants/wildlife (anything from weeds to bees to birds).

A few more ideas…

Again, this is a newer concept to me as well, but mush of what I have read seems to be based in the UK…but my first thoughts are good. This practice has a lot of overlap with many other certifcations, such as reducing/prohibiting certain pesticides, but is unique as it blends agriculture with the establishment ofconservation zones – two things which are usually seperated.

More information can be found at Conservation Grade home page.

Concluding thoughts – Though all of these certifications help to ensure what we are buying is in fact what it is being advertised… all of these are still based in market economies – basically they all require you to buy something (often at a premium). None of the certifications encourage us to use less or conserve more, but rather to use our dollars differently.

This is an issue for me because $2.99/lb certified organic apples shouldn’t just be for those who can afford them. The amount of pesticides a person eats shouldn’t be dependent on the type of job/income they have. These certifications have definitely increased consumer awareness of the things they try to certify against (pesticide use = need for organic certification, unfairly traded coffee = need for fairly traded coffee).

However when we are attempting to create the appearance of fairness, and ‘doing the right thing’, it can’t be based on something that has never been fair — MONEY.  Once we include money into anything, there will always be those who have it, and those who don’t. This taints the relationship from the beginning.  You wouldn’t eat something that is a ‘little bit poison’, so why are we buying things ‘fairly’ in a system that is a ‘little bit biased’?

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