What’s in a Logo? Organic, Non-GMO and Sustainability Certifications Explained

July 5, 2017

As consumer demand for more natural and sustainable products grows, there’s also been an increase in the number of independent organizations offering organic, non-GMO and other sustainability certifications. These certifications can help retailers and brands convey an added level of transparency and encourage today’s ever-more conscientious shoppers to instill their trust in a product.

But with so many certification options out there, it can be hard to know what exactly logo or seal means what. We created this handy guide to help retailers, brands and shoppers understand some of the most common certifications available in the U.S. marketplace today.

Organic

Though there are a number of organic-certifying agencies in the U.S., all adhere to the same set of standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These define organic foods as those that are produced without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or irradiation, and livestock raised on organic feed and not given antibiotics or growth hormones.

Under this umbrella, the standards allow for four organic labeling claims:

  • “100% Organic” means 100 percent of the ingredients and processing aids are organic. The product must include the certifying agency’s name or logo, and may feature the USDA Organic seal.
  • “Organic” means at least 95 percent of the ingredients are organic, but up to 5 percent may come from a limited list of non-organic ingredients. The product must include the certifying agency’s name or logo, and may feature the USDA Organic seal.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients” means at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic. The product must list the organic certifying agency, but the product cannot include the USDA Organic seal.
  • Products made with “specific organic ingredients” are less than 70 percent organic in total. Individual organic ingredients can be listed in the ingredients list, but labels may not include the USDA or a certifying agency’s seal.

Non-GMO

Unlike the organic claim, there is no standard in the U.S. for non-GMO claims.

Here’s what some of the most common seals seen on products actually mean:

  • Non-GMO Project Verified means all ingredients (including animal feed if the product includes animal-derived products) have been tested or traced to the source by an independent third-party and show no evidence of bioengineering.
  • Non-GMO Certified by NSF is similar to Non-GMO Project Certified, but allows USDA Organic Certification as proof of non-GMO status in place of testing and/or source tracing.
  • USDA Process Verified means the USDA has confirmed a company is following its own non-GMO standards (testing of actual product is not necessarily required).

 

Sustainability

What’s included in these certifications can also vary. For example:

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified means the product comes from a farm or forest that is regularly audited to ensure it is following set guidelines to ensure biodiversity and natural resource conservation, effective farm/forest management, and improved economic and human wellbeing. All products certified products are inherently non-GMO, but not necessarily organic.
  • Fairtrade America or Fair Trade Certified™ means farms, factories and fisheries have met rigorous social, environmental and economic standards, including for safe working conditions, no GMOs, no child labor and elimination of harmful chemicals.  Producers also earn additional money with every sale, which is used for investment in community projects.

 

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