Are Food Certification Labels Misleading?

By |September 19, 2008 |Food Industry|

By SafBaby Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson

They sure are! Especially when it comes to meat, fish and dairy products. Organic, certified-organic, GMO-Free, cage-free, free-range, fair trade and even more labels can be confusing and misleading to consumers.

After not knowing what many of these meant ourselves, SafBaby did some research to find out. What we learned was definitely interesting, so we wanted to share it with you.

It’s not surprising to see the matter in which some labels are used, simply to attract uninformed consumers. For example, “cage-free” doesn’t mean what you imagine in your head it should mean.

Here is a list of the most used food labels:


Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.

Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.

Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.

Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too. Certified Organic does not mean ‘cruelty-free’!

For more information, visit


The Logo is a registered trademark, for products that do not contain animal products and that have not been tested on animals. The Logo is easily visible to consumers interested in vegan products and helps vegans to shop without constantly consulting ingredient lists; it helps companies recognize a growing vegan market; and it helps bring the word “vegan”–and the lifestyle it represents–into the mainstream.

For more info, visit


Dolphin-safe means no tuna were caught on the trip in which such tuna were harvested using a purse seine net intentionally deployed on or to encircle dolphins, and that no dolphins were killed or seriously injured in the sets in which the tuna were caught.

Federal Regulations allow U.S. processors and importers to purchase and sell non dolphin-safe tuna.

For more info, visit Earth Island Institute


The Animal Welfare Approved food label and program assure consumers that the animals were raised with the highest welfare standards: raised on pasture, allowed to exhibit natural behaviors, not fed routine antibiotics or growth hormones. Animal Welfare Approved farms allow animals to behave naturally and socialize freely. On these farms, you’ll see animals breathing fresh, clean air and roaming in pastures or nesting in straw-bedded barns-the way you’ve always thought it should be!

For more information, visit

“For eggs from chickens that live in the sort of utopia conveyed by the images on most egg cartons, look for “animal welfare approved.” Available in limited markets, it is a new label by the Animal Welfare Institute that is given only to independent family farmers.”NY Times


Access to clean and sufficient food and water; and a safe and healthful living environment is also required from birth through slaughter. Producers also must comply with environmental standards.

Under the program, growth hormones are prohibited and animals are raised on a diet without antibiotics. Antibiotics can be used in the treatment of sick animals.

The birds are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but may be kept indoors at all times. They must be able to perform natural behaviors such as nesting, perching, and dust bathing. There are requirements for stocking density and number of perches and nesting boxes. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed. Compliance is verified through third-party auditing.

For more info, visit:


Certified Kosher means it is acceptable under traditional Jewish dietary laws to be eaten.

Milk products are not combined with meat products, non-kosher meat products have not been prepared on the same equipment and meat products come from kosher animals (those which chew their cud and have split hooves such as cows, sheep, goats, bison) or fowl (such as chicken, goose, duck) which have been slaughtered by an experienced slaughterer in the appropriate way (with a very sharp knife with a single cut).

For more information, go to


UEP certified farmers commit to strict guidelines and are audited by the USDA and Validus for compliance on 100 percent of their farms before they are allowed to place the United Egg Producers Certified seal of approval on their egg packaging.

The UEP Certified program for cage production provides assurance that hens receive adequate space, nutritious food, clean water, proper lighting, and fresh air daily as well as improves the flock’s livability and egg production rates.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission have approved the UEP Certified logo.

For more information go to: (Humane Society of the United States) has to say about UEP Certification:
“Hens laying these eggs will be afforded 67 square inches of cage space per bird, less area than a sheet of paper. The hens are confined in restrictive, barren cages and cannot perform many of their natural behaviors, including perching, nesting, foraging or even spreading their wings. Forced molting through starvation is prohibited, but beak cutting is allowed.”


Hens labeled as “cage-free” are uncaged inside barns or warehouses, but generally do not have access to the outdoors. They have the ability to engage in many of their natural behaviors such as walking, nesting, and spreading their wings.

Beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted. Label does NOT require a third-party certification.

For more information, visit


Free-range label applies to birds raised for meat and eggs. It is not regulated by the USDA, nor does it guarantee that the hens were provided access to the outdoors.

Label does NOT require a third-party certification. Minimum levels of outdoor access have not been set and specific rules do not apply to stocking density or flock size.

For more information, visit


Fair Trade Certification empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

TransFair USA, a non-profit organization, is the only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S.. TransFair’s rigorous audit system, which tracks products from farm to finished product, verifies industry compliance with Fair Trade criteria.

Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, and vanilla.

For more information, visit Fair Trade USA


The Salmon-Safe label on a product means it was created using healthy practices that keep Pacific Northwest rivers clean enough for native salmon to spawn and thrive.

Farms and urban sites earn Salmon-Safe certification after a rigorous assessment that includes on-the-ground inspection by expert independent certifiers.

Land managers can do much to promote healthy landscapes for salmon by planting trees along riverside areas, improving irrigation systems to reduce erosion, and limiting pesticides and other pollution from reaching waterways.

On a product, the Salmon-Safe logo refers to how the crop is produced, not to the food or beverage product itself.

Salmon-safe foods may or may not be certified organic. While organic certification is primarily concerned with chemical inputs used in production, Salmon-Safe certification examines the overall affect of the farming system in its watershed.

Salmon-safe farms may use synthetic or naturally occurring pesticides and fertilizers that are chosen with consideration for having the least impact on aquatic ecosystems.

For more information, visit


Genetically modified (GM) foods, are food products that have had their DNA directly altered through genetic engineering.

Companies may voluntarily label non-genetically modified food products as “non-GMO” or “MADE WITHOUT GENETICALLY MODIFIED INGREDIENTS”.

Meats, dairy products, farmed fish, and eggs are usually from animals fed GM feed. To avoid GMO, buy CERTIFIED ORGANIC.

What You Can Do:

  • Ask vendors at a local farmers market if their fruits and veggies are CERTIFIED ORGANIC and ask about how their animals are raised.
  • Ask if you could visit the farm to see the animals. If they won’t let you, they probably don’t want you to see the conditions.
  • Buy certified organic food produced in the United States.
  • Ask your supermarket or the food company named on your meat label or egg carton how it cares for its animals.
  • Inform yourself by visiting Animal Rights Organizations websites and become active.