E ating healthy can be a complicated endeavor—too many labels, but still not enough information to help you make an educated choice. Local Table has compiled a list of some of the most commonly used national and local food labels and what they mean. If you’ve got further questions on a particular label, we’ve listed a website where you can find out more. The most commonly seen labels at your local farmers’ market include: Certified Organic, Certified Naturally Grown, Certified Humane and PickTN Products. The labeling of eggs has become extremely complex and somewhat controversial. Still confused? Buy from your local farmer!
Animal Welfare Approved (dairy, eggs, chicken, goose, duck, turkey, beef, bison, lamb, goat, pork and rabbit)
This is the only USDA-approved third-party certification label that supports and promotes family farmers who raise their animals with the highest welfare standards, outdoors, on pasture or range.
American Grass-fed Certified (dairy, beef, lamb, goat)
This is a third-party certification program administered by the American Grass-fed Association. Standards require continuous access to pasture and a diet of 100 percent forage (no feedlots). Unlike the USDA’s voluntary standard for grass-fed claims, confinement and the use of hormones and antibiotics is prohibited.
Certified Humane (dairy, eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, lamb, goat, pork)
This is an international third-party welfare certification program administered by the non-profit Humane Farm Animal Care and is USDA-approved. Written by a 40-member scientific committee specializing in animal welfare, standards provide for the physiological and behavioral needs of animals year-round and in all circumstances.
Not all USDA-graded eggs are cage-free, and not all cage-free eggs are graded by the USDA. Eggs packed under a USDA Grade Shield and marketed as cage-free must be source-verified by USDA through onsite farm visits. Cage-free eggs must be produced by hens housed in a way that allows for not only unlimited access to food and water, but, unlike eggs from caged hens, also provides them the freedom to roam during the laying cycle. Cage-free eggs often come from aviaries.
Certified Naturally Grown
Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) is a grassroots non-profit organization offering peer-review certification to farmers and beekeepers who produce food for their local communities without the use of synthetic chemicals or GMOs. Details on production standards and program requirements are available at:
Organic food is produced without pesticides or chemical additives on soil that has had no prohibited substances on it for at least three years. Certified organic meat animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors, fed 100% organic feed and forage and not administered antibiotics or hormones. It puts farmers through a tedious, and often expensive, certification process.
Eat REAL Tennessee
This is an initiative to inform consumers about nutrition and sustainability, as well as connect them with REAL-certified food and food service operators that utilize nutrition and sustainability best practices. Through eatreal.org/tennessee , community-based activities, online resources and social media, Eat REAL maximizes public awareness of healthful and sustainable food and beverage options.
Non-GMO Project Verification
The Non-GMO Project Verified seal gives the assurance that a product has completed a comprehensive third-party verification for compliance with the Non-GMO Project standard. All certified organic foods should contain no GMOs. The Non-GMO Project Verified seal, however, provides the added assurance that a product has been subjected to ongoing testing of risk ingredients for GMOs at critical control points.
Fair Trade Certified
Fair Trade International is a nonprofit that grants its Fair Trade label based on economic well-being and environmental health criteria. Think: ensuring that workers are paid above minimum wage and checking to see that small-scale producers have created safe work environments. You can find this label on products like cocoa, tea and sugar.
PickTN Products is a marketing program from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture connecting consumers to farmers on the web, via mobile app and social media platforms. The PickTN Products sign assures the customer that the farm products are truly grown and/or made in Tennessee.
Tennessee Natural Beef Program
In the Tennessee Natural Beef program, all participating beef producers must follow strict regulations that address the animals’ diets, growth, health and handling, and the producers’ harvest practices. In addition, these beef products are only from animals born and raised in the Volunteer State.