Know Your Labels!

I originally wrote this blog for the first part of Not in Harry’s Name, but since that was a while back, I thought you might like to refresh your memory about all those labels you see at the grocery store. Note that the labels shown here are the US versions, and although most countries have the same or similar certifications, the labels may look different (there are even different kinds of labels used in the U.S.). If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

As we delve deeper into the difficult problems presented by child slavery and the various ways we can help to solve them, some of our members have asked this question: what is the difference between buying organic versus fair trade products?

Photo courtesy of the USDA

Photo courtesy of the USDA

In general, Organic means that the product has been created without the use of synthetic chemicals or pesticides. Thus, organic foods are good for you since you aren’t eating the harmful chemicals. They are also good for the planet at large because they lessen the harmful chemicals that pollute the Earth, air, and water; and finally, they are good for the farmers who are constantly in contact with these chemicals in a conventional production system. To put this last point into perspective, I knew a woman whose family had raised fruit in Iran, and who had spent years eating and sleeping on fifty-pound bags of pesticides because they didn’t have anywhere else to store them.

There are many different Organic certification methods and requirements, each of which is a little different. In America, the USDA is the largest, but there are many others, both in America and all around the world. You can learn about the USDA’s requirements for Organic labeling right here.

Fair Trade products are focused on the good of the people who produce the product, as well as those that consume it. The best known Fair Trade certification group is Fair Trade International. They ensure that their products are produced by people making a living wage, and are not being produced with harmful or inhumane practices such as the use of child labor.

Photo courtesy of Fair Trade International

Photo courtesy of Fair Trade International

In addition to this, producers pay the Fair Trade Premium, a sum of money which is used to improve the overall quality of the lives of those producing the product. This can include helping to maximize production, setting up education or healthcare systems, improving farm equipment, etc.

Also, Fair Trade producers are encouraged to gain organic certification, are required to protect their environment and use sustainable production methods, and are prohibited from using genetically modified organisms and certain chemicals. You can learn more about Fair Trade, and their standards and mission right here. Also, if you ever have reason to believe that a product is wrongfully using the Fair Trade label, you can report it here.

In the case of both Organic and Fair Trade certification, there are many different certification programs, each of which has slightly different aims and requirements. The values mentioned above are generally held by all programs, but it is a good idea to research the different options. The really good news is that lots of products are certified for both Fair Trade and Organic. In terms of well-being for the planet, the producers, and you, these are just about as good as you can get.

A last note of interest: another term that comes up in the grocery store is “All Natural.” This term is one to be aware of because it is frequently used to make you think that something is the next best thing to organic. In fact, it means absolutely nothing. Unlike the word ‘Organic,’ the word ‘Natural’ has no legal meaning. This means that absolutely anything can be labeled “All Natural” and be perfectly legal in doing so.

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