Interpretation of Food Certification Labels | American Council on Science and Health

Food certification labels do not indicate better nutrition or quality. These labels cannot guarantee better nutrition or human health; these are marketing arrangements using a set of standards relating to one or more of the following

  • social problems
  • environmental impacts
  • dietary restrictions
  • animal wellbeing
  • Fair trade

Some promote “sustainability,” a concept that we still struggle to measure and define. And there are older labels, such as kosher and halal, based on religious practices and laws.

Are these foods safer?

These labels are not food safety indicators. Food companies can choose from many food safety certifications promoted by international non-governmental organizations such as ISO22000, FSSD 22000, and BRCGS. In the United States, our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) to regulate the food safety of food manufacturers above a specific size. Meat, poultry and some dairy products are controlled by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These certifications and safety programs provide safe and wholesome food to the consumer. Although expensive and stringent, these certifications are not placed on a food packaging label because they are meaningless to a buyer and safety is “a given” in the United States. If you buy food from a grocery store in the United States, it has passed regulated safety standards.

Kosher and Halal

Some labels provide a quick reference for denominational dietary restrictions. The term “kosher”, translated from a Hebrew term, means “fit” for consumption. To be labeled kosher, foods or ingredients must meet the requirements of dietary laws written in religious texts or oral traditions of the Jewish faith. There are injunctions against eating certain foods, including pork, and meat and dairy products should not be eaten together. Foods labeled “pareve” are neutral foods and can be eaten with meat or dairy products. Animals intended for kosher meat have special slaughter methods. [1]

Common kosher labels feature either a “K” or a “U”, but there are at least ten other symbols depending on the certification agency. When These letters are next to the kosher symbol, a “D” indicates dairy, an “M” indicates meat, an “F” indicates fish, and a “P” indicates Passover, not to be confused with pareve. These symbols help kosher followers follow their dietary rules.

The Arabic word, halal, means “allowed”. Products permitted for consumption by Muslims under Islamic law are certified by halal agencies or authorities. Like kosher dietary laws, halal dietary restrictions include the consumption of pork and animals not slaughtered using halal methods. Other restrictions include the consumption of carnivorous animals, birds of prey, alcohol and intoxicants. Halal labels contain the word halal or may have the letter “M” next to a crescent moon symbol.

Kosher and Halal both have certification bodies such as the Orthodox Union (OU) or the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFNCA). Their certification may or may not align with quality certification such as ISO9000. IFANCA put it this way, “ISO alone does not make a halal product, [but] a halal product can be produced without ISO. That said, kosher and halal are just as safe as conventional foods that meet USDA and FSMA standards. They provide valuable labels to believers and non-believers alike.

Organic labels

The USDA National Biological Program (NOPE) began organic certification in the 1990s as marketing program for American farmers. The USDA defines ‘ORGANIC’ as,

“…food grown and processed in accordance with federal guidelines regarding, among many factors, soil quality, animal husbandry 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 products as organic, a farmer must document and prove that the plants were grown on soil free of banned substances, such as pesticides or conventional fertilizers, applied for at least three years prior to harvest. The three-year rule is a tough hurdle for budding new growers because they can’t sell their produce at a premium during that time. They also experience lower crop yields during this transition period.

Verification of the NOP is supported by annual inspections, investigation of complaints, and enforcement of non-compliance. It is a highly respected label but difficult to obtain due to the time, expense and record keeping required for certification. It can also create unintended consequences for animals due to changes in husbandry practices.

To raise and sell certified organic meat or poultry, NOP regulations require animals to be raised in living conditions appropriate to their natural behaviors, such as grazing for livestock. Heat and insects in the south, and conversely snow and biting cold in the north can limit the availability of pasture. Barns, sheds and other confinements can provide protection from biting insects, temperature regulation, air circulation and security from predators. Due to such environmental impacts, cattle and poultry raised on pasture have lower growth rates and feed efficiency than those raised in confinement. In addition, the animals must be fed with 100% organic feed and fodder. As mentioned in a recent ACSH article, most animal foods such as corn, soybeans, and forages such as alfalfa are GMOs and therefore not organic by USDA standards. It is difficult for farmers to find feed and forage that meets these demands, increasing both the farmer’s and buyer’s costs.

Chemically, cattle cannot be administered antibiotics or hormones. This eliminates the preventative or prophylactic use of antibiotics, which is good because it helps prevent antibiotic resistance in food animals. Meat, eggs or milk from animals that become ill and require antibiotic treatment can no longer be sold as organic. Hormone removal is not a problem for poultry since chickens and turkeys grow rapidly and are not used commercially.

The label, Certified Naturally Grown (CNG), is a popular non-governmental alternative to the USDA organic label, with much lower requirements than the USDA-administered program. He has been described as repel at NOP. CNG and NOP provide consumers with the desired ethical, environmental and social standards for organic food.

CNG basic requirements are membership dues, a signed statement, on-site inspection, record keeping and peer review of other farmers in the program.

CNG costs less to administer and certify than NOP and is suitable for small local farmers who sell directly to their communities. CNG claims its regulations meet or exceed USDA’s NOP without the massive paperwork. There is no 3 year waiting period with CNG. Inspections are done annually by fellow farmers in the CNG network, which they believe promotes sharing and community. GNC farmers believe the NOP is best suited to larger operations that can afford the expense and staff to follow the required “paper trail”.

GMO-free labels

The most notable non-GMO label is Non-GMO Project Verified, a non-profit organization that identifies non-GMO choices in food, pet food, and dietary supplements by verifying non-GMO status through testing. third-party analytics. Laboratories use molecular tests to look for GMO DNA in a food or ingredient; the highest level of GMOs “contamination” allowed in food is 0.9%. Commonly grown GMO crops include corn, papaya, soybeans, sugar beets, yellow summer squash, zucchini, and potatoes. To receive a NOP Organic label, GMO testing is also required, making the non-GMO project label redundant in foods labeled USDA Organic.

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

[1] Eggs, fish, fruits, cereals, unprocessed juices, pasta, soft drinks, coffee, tea, some sweets and snacks are taken into account 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 from Wikipedia and are used under a Creative Commons license.

Kosher

Halal

USDA NOP

Certified Naturally Grown

Non-GMO project verified

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