As a conscious label-reader, I’ve come to notice many labels trying to proclaim that their product supports a variety of organizations. Whether it’s rebuilding the rainforest, protecting animals, or supporting farmers, there’s pretty much an organization and a label to identify it.
But, how do you know what to look for? Furthermore, what do all of these organizations support? Are any of them government? How about private? Who’s behind the curtain of that cute little frog emblem we see on our Nescafe package?
While there are hundreds of organizations that focus on either supporting or protecting, there are six that are currently taking precedent on our food packaging: Fair Trade USA, Food Alliance, Rainforest Alliance, Demeter Association Inc., USDA Organic, and Smithsonian Bird Friendly Gold Standard. Each of these organizations supports a very worthy cause in the plant-based world realm. With that said, all of these organizations are drastically different and follow different guidelines to be certified. Here’s a quick-reference guide to each of these organizations, their label or logo, who’s “behind the curtain”, and what it takes to be certified.
Fair Trade Certified is a certification offered by Fair Trade USA, which is a “global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations putting people and planet first.” Fair Trade USA brings together this network to support “committees of farmers, workers, and fisherman who decide how to invest their Fair Trade Community Development Funds based on their community’s greatest needs.” For these communities, clean water, education, and health care generally top the list of community needs to support. Fair Trade USA certifies products that support, aid, or meet four guidelines: income sustainability, empowerment, individual and community well-being, and environmental stewardship:
If a product is income sustainable it meets “rigorous fair trade standards [to] ensure producers, workers, farmers, and fisherman have the money needed to invest int heir lives and their work,” regardless of “volatile market prices.”
If a product provides empowerment it is based around “rigorous standards that give farmers, workers, and fishermen a voice in the workplace and the community,” regardless of status, gender, position in society, or position on the globe.
If a product lends to individual and community well-being it provides support for people to have the “capacity to invest in better futures, [and] the result is a healthier workforce and ultimately higher quality goods.
If a product meets the fair trade environmental stewardship guidelines, it prohibits the “most harmful chemicals and [takes] measures to protect natural resources.”
For a product to receive the Fair Trade Certification, they must adhere to rigorous standards that are outlined in the Fair Trade Global Model. The Fair Trade Certified™ seal is an assurance that the product “was made according to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards.” The seal also promises that Fair Trade USA officials worked on the “ground with producers,” while also certifying “transactions between companies and their suppliers to ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities.”
Started as a non-profit organization in 1997, the Food Alliance focuses on promoting and defining “sustainability in agriculture and the food industry, and to ensure safe and fair working conditions, humane treatment of animals, and careful stewardship of ecosystems.” This organization was a brainchild developed from three different groups — Oregon State University, Washington State University, and the Washington State Department of Agriculture — and sources support and program development from “leaders in both organic and conventional agriculture, from retail and wholesale food businesses, government agencies, and organizations representing farm labor, animal welfare, and the environment.”
A food that has been Food Alliance Certified meets sustainable agricultural practice standards via a third-party site inspection. The sustainable agricultural practice standards differ depending on the type of site or program being inspected such as crops, nurseries, greenhouses, educational programs, sustainability programs, and more.
Most Food Alliance Certified facilities are “mid-sized or smaller family-owned and operated businesses,” and they have also certified “over 35 food processing and distribution facilities.” This certification has led to “improved practices on participating farms and ranches leading to better conditions for thousands of workers, more humane treatment of hundreds of thousands of animals, and reduced pesticide use, healthier soils, cleaner water, and enhanced wildlife habitat on millions of acres of range and farmland.”
3. Rainforest Alliance
The Rainforest Alliance focuses on “building an alliance to create a better future for people and nature by making responsible business the new normal.” Their specific goal is to work with businesses in conjunction with the needs of agriculture and the natural forest ecosystem to find a balance and harmony between them all. In order to accomplish this balance, the Rainforest Alliance works with diverse allies to “amplify the voices of farmers and forest communities, improve livelihoods, protect biodiversity, and help people mitigate and adapt to climate change in bold and effective ways.”
In order to achieve a Rainforest Alliance Certification, the farm and farmer groups involved must meet the Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standards, which are based around the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). On top of that, the Rainforest Alliance also “manages the Certification Rules and all other policies and requirements associated with the sustainable agriculture certification program,” such as “authorizing and training certification bodies, audit protocols, safeguarding transparency, maintaining the certification database, engaging stakeholders, and ensuring the overall quality of the certification program.”
With that said, the Rainforest Alliance is revamping their certification program for the year 2020, so in the coming year, make sure to take a peek at their new certification guidelines!
The Demeter Association, Inc. — named after the Greek goddess of agriculture — is a worldwide not-for-profit organization “incorporated in 1985 with the mission to enable people to farm successfully, in accordance with the Biodynamic® practices and principles,” and with a vision to “heal the planet through agriculture.” In fact, Demeter happens to be the “oldest ecological certification organization in the world.”
Biodynamic farming is a farming method rooted in the “work of philosopher and scientist Dr. Rudolf Steiner” and is based on a “holistic, ecological, and ethical approach to farming, gardening, food, and nutrition.” The principles and practices of biodynamics take into consideration “adaptation to scale, landscape, climate, and culture” of gardens, farms, vineyards, ranches, or orchards.
In order to achieve a Demeter certification in biodynamic farming, the farm must meet all requirements for the National Organic Program, as well as the Demeter-specific standards. Theses standards are “much more extensive, with stricter requirements around imported fertility, greater emphasis on on-farm solutions for disease, pest, and weed control, and in-depth specifications around water conservation and biodiversity.”
A USDA Organic certification is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is one of the most widely-used organic certifications in the United States. Behind the USDA organic certification is the National Organic Program (NOP) — with input from the National Organic Standards Board (a Federal Advisory Committee of 15 public members ) — which “develops the rules [and] regulations for the production, handling, labeling, and enforcement of all USDA organic products,” as well as provides “guidance, instructions, policy memos, and other documents that communicate the organic standards.”
1) They must adopt “organic practices, [select] a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and [submit] an application and fees to the certifying agent.”
2) Their application is reviewed in regards to the USDA organic regulations.
3) An on-site inspection verifies that the physical operation meets organic regulations.
4) Both the application and on-site report are reviewed to make sure the “applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.”
5) Lastly, the certifying agent will issue an organic certificate.
6. Bird-Friendly Certified
The Bird Friendly gold standard certification is based around Smithsonian conservation science with a goal to protect habitats that are “destroyed to make way for coffee growing,” as well as support organic farming. As of 2018, the Bird Friendly gold standard is used by coffee farms in 12 countries and 4,600 coffee producers, protects more than 31,000 acres of land, and has been stamped on more than 19 million pounds of coffee.
The Bird Friendly® certification is a specific cert for coffee farms that “meet the Smithsonian’s rigorous habitat standards.” While the coffee farms are certified via third-party agencies, these importers, roasters, and retailers maintain a legal agreement with the Smithsonian Institution regarding the use of their Bird Friendly seal. In order to become Bird Friendly certified, “organic coffee farmers contact agencies approved to inspect for Bird Friendly standards,” and pay a small fee. Re-certification is required every three years in order for the seal to be used.
What goes into coffee beans that are bird friendly? The signed legal agreement verifies that the beans have been “separately [handled, packaged and labeled] Bird Friendly … guaranteeing 100 percent product purity and traceability and reporting their purchases and sales.”
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