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Food certification labels do not indicate the best nutrition or quality. These labels cannot guarantee the best nutrition or human health; are marketing tools that use a set of standards relating to one or more of the following

  • social problems
  • environmental impact
  • dietary restrictions
  • animal care
  • fair Trade

Some promote “sustainable development” – a concept that we are still trying to measure and define. And there are older labels like kosher and halal based on religious customs and laws.

Are these products safer?

These labels are not food safety indicators. Food companies can choose from a variety of food safety certifications promoted by international non-governmental organizations such as ISO 22000, FSSD 22000, as well as BRGS. In the United States, our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to regulate food safety for food producers over a certain size. Meat, poultry, and some dairy products are regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These safety certifications and programs provide consumers with safe, wholesome food. While these certifications are expensive and strict, they are not placed on the food packaging label as they are meaningless to the consumer and safety is “taken for granted” in the US. If you buy food from a grocery store in the United States, it meets established safety standards.

Kosher and Halal

Some labels provide a summary of faith-based dietary restrictions. The term “kosher” in Hebrew means “suitable” for consumption. To be labeled as kosher, foods or ingredients must comply with the requirements of dietary laws as laid down in the religious texts of the Jewish faith or oral traditions. There are prohibitions against eating certain foods, especially pork, as well as meat and dairy products, which cannot be eaten together. Products marked “pareve” are neutral products and can be used with both meat and dairy products. Animals destined for kosher meat have special slaughter methods. [1]

Regular kosher labels have the letters “K” or “U”, but there are at least ten other characters depending on the certification agency. When these letters are next to the kosher symbol, “D” indicates dairy, “M” indicates meat, “F” indicates fish, and “P” indicates Pesach, not to be confused with pareve. These symbols help the followers of kosher to follow the rules of nutrition.

The Arabic word “halal” means “permissible”. Products approved for consumption by Muslims under Islamic law are certified by halal agencies or authorities. Like kosher food laws, halal dietary restrictions include eating pork and animals not slaughtered according to halal methods. Other restrictions include eating carnivores, birds of prey, alcohol, and intoxicants. Halal labels contain the word halal or may have an “M” next to the crescent symbol.

Both kosher and halal have certifying agencies such as the Orthodox Union (OU) or the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA). Their certification may or may not be consistent with quality certification such as ISO 9000. IFANCA put it this way: “ISO alone does not make a product halal, [but] a halal product can be produced without ISO.” However, kosher and halal foods are just as safe as regular foods that comply with USDA and FSMA standards. They give valuable labels to believers and non-believers alike.

organic labels

USDA National Organic Program (NO) began organic certification in the 1990s as marketing program for American farmers. USDA defines organic as,

“…food grown and processed in accordance with federal guidelines that take into account, among many factors, soil quality, animal rearing practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. Organic producers rely as much as possible on natural substances and physical, mechanical or biological farming methods.”

The USDA NOP has strict rules and a list of prohibited substances.

For example, to certify a product as organic, a farmer must document and prove that the plants were grown in soil without the use of prohibited substances such as conventional pesticides or fertilizers at least three years before harvest. The three year rule is a difficult hurdle for new organic growers as they cannot sell their produce at a premium during this period. They also experience lower yields during this transition period.

NOP review is supported by annual reviews, complaint investigations and non-compliance controls. It is a highly respected label but difficult to obtain due to the time, cost and documentation required for certification. It can also lead to unintended consequences for animals due to changes in management practices.

In order to raise and sell certified organic meat or poultry, NOP regulations require animals to be raised in conditions consistent with their natural behavior, such as pasture grazing. Heat and insects in the south, and conversely, snow and extreme cold in the north, can limit pasture availability. Barns, sheds, and other spaces can provide protection from insect bites, temperature regulation, air movement, and security from predators. Due to these environmental impacts, pasture-raised livestock and poultry have lower growth rates and feed efficiency than indoor-raised animals. In addition, animals must be fed 100% organic feed and forage. As mentioned in a recent ACSH article, most feeds such as corn, soybeans, and feeds such as alfalfa are GMOs and therefore not organic by USDA standards. It is difficult for farmers to find feed and forage that meet these requirements, which increases costs for both the farmer and the buyer.

From a chemical point of view, animals should not be injected with antibiotics or hormones. This eliminates the preventive or prophylactic use of antibiotics, which is good because it helps prevent antibiotic resistance in farm animals. Meat, eggs or milk from animals that are sick and need antibiotic treatment can no longer be sold as organic. Elimination of hormones is not a problem for poultry as chickens and turkeys grow quickly and are not used commercially.

Sticker, Certified natural product (CNG) is a non-governmental, mass-market alternative to USDA organic labeling with much lower requirements than the USDA-administered program. He was described as repel to NOP. Both CNG and NOP provide consumers with the desired ethical, environmental and social standards for organic food.

KKE primary requirements membership fees, signed declaration, on-site verification, record keeping and peer review of other farmers participating in the program.

LNG expenses requires less administration and certification than NOP and is suitable for small local farmers selling directly to their communities. CNG claims that its rules meet or exceed USDA NOPs without a huge amount of paperwork. There is no 3-year waiting period when using CNG. Inspections are made annually by other farmers in the CNG network, which they claim promotes exchange and community. LNG farmers believe the NOP is more suited to larger businesses that can afford the pay and staff to keep up with the required paper trail.

Non-GMO Labels

The most prominent sign of non-GMO is Non-GMO Project Verified, a non-profit organization that determines non-GMO food choices in food, pet food, and dietary supplements by verifying non-GMO status through third-party analytical testing. Laboratories use molecular testing to look for GMO DNA in food or ingredients; the highest level of GMO “pollution” allowed in food products – 0.9%. Commonly grown GMO crops include corn, papayas, soybeans, sugar beets, yellow squash, squash, and potatoes. NOP Organic labeling also requires testing for GMOs, making Non-GMO project labeling redundant for USDA Organic labeled foods.

WOW! There are so many food certification labels out there. Next, we look at labels for environmental protection, sustainability, animal welfare and fair trade. And we will learn more about “natural” and “clean” labels.

[1] Eggs, fish, fruits, cereals, raw juices, pasta, soft drinks, coffee, tea, some candies and snacks are considered pareve. Fish can be eaten with dairy products, but not with meat. Foods eaten during the 8-day Passover holiday have additional processing rules.

All images are taken from Wikipedia and used under a Creative Commons license.

Kosher

Halal

USDA NOP

Certified natural product

Non-GMO Project Verified

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