Certifiably Good

I know we all try to be better people. We all try to skip the straw at Starbucks, or choose paper when asked “paper or plastic?”, or buy “organic” produce. But is buying “organic” the same as “Organic”? Is “cage-free” the same as “free-range”? What is “pasture-raised”? If the Organic certification doesn’t include any of these assurances, is buying Organic even that good? Could Organic be worse for the environment?

Third-party food certifications give us a look into what happens on the farm where our food is coming from and how it is treated before the store. Just because the food has nice green packaging and says organic or humanely raised doesn’t mean that the food is better for the environment, animal, or even truly Organic. Producers are allowed to make many loose claims that are not strictly defined by the USDA. You need to search for the USDA Certified Organic logo or other third-party certifications on your foods first. Growing certified food whether it be meat, dairy, eggs, or produce, and making sure that the animals are being humanely treated and that nothing bad goes into the products is harder. They’re more expensive to buy, they create larger emissions of greenhouse gasses, increased land, and water usage per crop, and not everybody has adequate access to these foods.

Now you’re asking yourself if you should even care because what’s good is starting to look just like the bad, don’t worry. They are more expensive because the extra care they require an increased demand for healthy food has driven up the price (thanks, capitalism) but prices are starting to drop, to combat this you can always go to a local farmer or attend farmer’s markets and get your food directly from the source. The certification is a long, paperwork-filled, expensive process that many older local farmers, although their practice is Organic, it is too costly for the farmer one way or another to get officially certified. The larger amounts of greenhouse gasses, especially in the cattle industry, because the cows are being well taken care of they produce more methane and the agriculture side produces less carbon dioxide than regular farming so not all bad. Organic produce also travels further which requires transport from fleets of vehicles. Organic food is more nutritious too with less harmful pesticides and more nutrients from the way it was produced. You just have to understand how the food was treated before it got to you, and additional third-party food certifications you often see along with “Organic” help us determine that.

Each third-party certification has its meaning and producers, like most people in the world, bend around the rules as much as possible without breaking them. So your cage-free certified egg may have been produced “cage-free” but instead, the hens live their entire lives inside a warehouse with thousands of chickens with barely a square foot of room available to each just living on top of each other. It is important to know what you are purchasing, you care about the chickens, or else you would have grabbed the regular eggs and had been on with your day. So do the chickens one better and stop supporting bad business practices by supporting them with your purchases and go buy chickens and farm your eggs! Okay, so maybe that’s not possible for everyone so let’s just take a step back and learn what some of these most popular “certifications” really mean.

Meat & Dairy

Eggs & Laying Hens


As you can see there is no ONE certification that covers everything and just buying Certified Organic is not enough. The more certifications the better, the more issues they cover. Now that you have a good idea of the certifications to look for while shopping you’re ready to go! It’s worth it to slow down and take a deeper look into the food you are buying and making sure that it is not only good for you but also good for the planet. If you need help, there’s not yet an app to tell you about certifications and their standards, but try downloading the Yuka: Food & Cosmetic scanner. This tool gives you insights into dangerous food additives to avoid – simply by scanning the barcode of your food.

-Posted by Kaela

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