With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you an easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.
But a growing number of food and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies aren't waiting for the government to mandate ingredients disclosure and supply chain improvements. They're turning to third-party verifiers in an effort to appeal to knowledge-hungry buyers.
So, if you want to learn more about what's in your food, this drill-down of common food labels can help.
The USDA Organic label appears on thousands of food products from a bevy of major brands. It calls for a specific set of farming practices, such as the elimination of certain pesticides and fertilizers, to minimize impact on the environment and human health.
For animal products, USDA organic requires some outdoor access -- although it does not specify the quality or quantity.
Kellogg subsidiary Kashi -- known best for cereals and snack bars -- set out to solve this problem and help more farmers on their journey to organic. Through a partnership with Quality Assurance International (QAI) and Hesco, the company launched the Certified Transitional label this spring. The label recognizes farmers for the work they do in those three years before going fully organic, and helps Kashi find new suppliers.
Only two months later, Kashi released its first product containing Certified Transitional ingredients -- a sweet breakfast cereal fittingly called Dark Cocoa Karma Shredded Wheat Biscuits. The certification will soon be apply to any crop, from fruits and grains to cotton.
Shoppers may notice the Fair Trade Certified label on products like coffee and cocoa. The label indicates a product was made with respect to people and planet.
Fairtrade America, which upholds the Fair Trade Certification for U.S. goods, puts producers against a rigorous set of social, environmental and economic standards. Its requirements seek seek to promote safe and healthy working conditions, protect the environment, enable transparency, and empower communities to build strong, thriving businesses. Fair Trade USA also certifies fair trade products in the U.S.
When perusing international products, you might also see the Fair Trade International logo seen at right. Fair Trade International is a separate organization which also has strong Fair Trade standards.
You may have noticed a little green frog on the window of your local coffee shop, a bushel of fruit at the market or a chocolate bar at your favorite health-food haunt. Emblematic of Rainforest Alliance certification, the frog ensures key commodities shoppers crave do not contribute to deforestation.
Products bearing the seal originate on -- or contain ingredients sourced from -- Rainforest Alliance Certified farms or forests. These areas are managed according to rigorous criteria designed to conserve wildlife, safeguard soils and waterways, protect workers and their communities, and increase livelihoods, the organization says.
In addition to common food commodities -- such as cocoa, coffee, tea and palm oil -- the Alliance also certifies tourism lodges, which must meet its comprehensive sustainability standards for tourism.
The Non-GMO Project Standard is reserved for products with a truly GMO-free supply chain. The consensus-based Standard is modified and opened for public comment regularly to keep it rigorous, current and collaborative, the nonprofit says.
In a 2013 survey conducted by the American Humane Association, 89 percent of those polled said they were very concerned about farm animal welfare, and 74 percent said they were willing to pay more for humanely-raised meat, dairy and eggs.
This market shift has food producers scrambling to add animal welfare labels to their products. But shoppers should be aware of what these labels mean before they buy.
Overfishing and human rights abuses threaten the sustainability of the seafood supply chain. But a growing number of seafood companies are seeking third-party verification to gain goodwill with customers. Look for the Marine Stewardship Council Certification seal on wild-caught fish and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council Certification seal on farmed fish.Image credits: 1) Flickr/neetalperekh; 2) Flickr/Tim Beirbach; 3) Flickr/Sally Crossthwaite; 4) Flickr/Jasper Nance; 5) Flickr/Walmart
Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious Company, AlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia, PA.