Make sense of these 15 eco-friendly food labels

MAR 10, 2016
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A lifetime of health comes down to the little actions we take every day, many of which happen in our grocery purchases. Those choices not only affect our own bodies, but also the global food chain and natural environment.


At Kaiser Permanente, we rely on a Sustainable Food Scorecard to give preference to locally grown and sustainably produced food products. Nearly half of the fruits and vegetables we serve on patient menus are sustainably produced, locally grown, or both.


Here are some of the food labels that score big points with us and what they can tell you about the products that have them:


American Grassfed

  • Animals were fed grass throughout their entire lives (after weaning), with no grain ever.
  • The animals had continuous access to pasture, and when weather conditions prevented them from grazing on pasture, they were given a grass-based forage.
  • The standards also prohibit antibiotics, growth hormones, and the use of certain parasiticides.

Animal Welfare Approved

  • Animals raised humanely on a family farm from birth to slaughter, with adequate and meaningful welfare protections and outdoor access.
  • One of the only animal welfare labels for poultry that requires access to pasture.

Bird Friendly

  • Found on coffee, this means that the farm where the coffee is grown is certified organic and maintains canopy for diverse bird habitat. (Coffee farms typically cut many trees to increase yields from coffee crops.)

BPI Compostable

  • Products that can break down into usable compost in a reasonable amount of time in the natural environment.
  • Compostable products are biodegradable, with the added benefit of introducing nutrients back into the soil.

Certified Humane Raised & Handled

  • Farms raising the animals met the Humane Farm Animal Care program’s standards for living conditions and treatment during transportation and slaughter.
  • Certified Humane standards also require prudent antibiotic use and prohibit artificial growth hormones and animal by-products in animal feed.
  • The label does not mean that chickens and pigs went outdoors, or that beef cattle and dairy cows had continuous access to pasture for grazing.

Fair Trade Certified

  • Products come from farms where farmers and workers are justly compensated.

Food Alliance Certified

  • Food produced on farms and processed in facilities that aim to meet standards of sustainable and responsible food production, including:
    • Reducing pesticide use through integrated pest management (rather than prohibiting all synthetic pesticides)
    • Soil and water conservation
    • Animal welfare
    • Wildlife and biodiversity conservation
    • Fair working conditions

Forest Stewardship Council

  • Forest/paper products used are from responsibly harvested and verified sources.

Green Seal

  • The product meets rigorous performance, health, and environmental criteria.
  • Certification backs up manufacturer’s environmental claims.
  • Helps consumers identify products that are safer for human health and the environment.

 Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Certified

  • Wild seafood caught using methods that do not deplete the natural supply.
  • Fishing companies do not cause serious harm to other life in the sea, from coral to dolphins.

Non-GMO Project Verified

  • Products made without the intentional use of genetically engineered ingredients (GMOs).
  • Best practices followed to prevent contamination with GMOs.
  • Does not guarantee the product is “GMO-free.”

Rainforest Alliance Certified

  • The farm where the product was grown meets Sustainable Agriculture Network standards, including:
    • Ecosystem conservation
    • Wildlife protection
    • Water conservation
    • Fair treatment and good working conditions for workers
    • Basic animal welfare practices


  • Dairy from cows not injected with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH, also called rBST, to boost milk production.


  • Farm uses agricultural practices that promote healthy streams and wetlands.
  • Found on beef, dairy, fruit, vegetables, legumes, beverages, etc.

USDA Organic

  • Food grown and processed following strict federal standards of sustainability and minimal synthetic inputs in farming and production.


A version of this article previously appeared on Kaiser Permanente’s Food for Health blog.



TOPICSeco-friendlyfood labelsgrass-fedorganic