Monday, September 21, 2009

What does that mean? Making sense of symbols

More and more symbols are popping up on product labels these days. If you’re like me, they can be quite confusing. For instance, what does Rainforest Alliance Certified or Fair Trade Certified mean?

Here’s a list of five of the symbols you may come across and what they represent. If you have additional ones you would like to share, please do so in the comments section on this page. Keep in mind this is only a brief overview.

Certified Humane Raised & Handled
This is the only labeling program in the U.S. dedicated to the welfare of farm animals from birth through slaughter.

  • Animals are fed a diet without antibiotics
  • No growth hormones are given to the animals

Green Seal

There are strict guidelines that must be followed before a product is awarded a Green Seal and it is based on the reduced impact on the environment and on health issues. Bearing the symbol also means a product will perform as well or better than others in the same category.

  • Household Cleaners cannot contain any toxic components such as carcinogens, reproductive toxins or mutagens. The product is not toxic to aquatic life and is biodegradable. The packaging contains post-consumer content and either uses bags or pouches to reduce packaging or is recyclable.
  • Kitchen Paper Products and Paper are produced without the addition of chlorine and contain at least 30% post consumer fiber.
  • Paints must adhere to strict VOC (volatile organic compound) limits in order to reduce indoor and outdoor pollutants. They are also free of 25 toxic chemicals that are prohibited, such as benzene, phthalates, formaldehyde and heavy metals, including lead.
  • Windows and Doors are energy efficient with minimal air leakage. They are manufactured with no heavy metals, such as lead, mercury or arsenic and the packaging has to contain at least 25% post-consumer materials.
  • Hotels that bear the Green Seal are certified based on their minimizing waste and use of hazardous substances. They also have policies to purchase green products whenever possible.
For a list of hotels and products that are Green Seal certified, visit their website at

Fair Trade Certified

  • Food is grown on small farms
  • Disadvantaged farmers receive a guaranteed price for their products

According to Wikipedia, Fair Trade is an “organized social movement and market-based approach that aims to help producers in developing countries and promote sustainability. The movement advocates the payment of a higher price to producers as well as social and environmental standards in areas related to the production of a wide variety of goods.”

Rainforest Alliance Certified

In order to receive the Rainforest Alliance Certification, there are 10 principles that serve as categories for 90 standards that must be met. These standards are enforced by the SAN (Sustainable Agriculture Network) and include:

  • Protection of wildlife
  • Ecosystem conservation
  • Workers must receive fair treatment and good working conditions

A minimum score of 50% in each of the 90 standards is required for certification, as well as an 80% overall score. Companies harvesting the food must practice conservation of soil and water and reduce the use of pesticides.

Products that may contain the symbol displaying a green frog inside of a circle include:

Maple syrup
Orange juice
Picture frames
Window frames

USDA Organic

There are several different labels for USDA Organic foods.

  • 100% Organic -- all ingredients are organic
  • Organic -- at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Made with Organic Ingredients – at least 70% organic ingredients with stringent restrictions on the other 30% which cannot contain any GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

In order to be considered an organic product, food must be grown without the use of pesticides, ionizing radiation, genetically modified organisms, sewage sludge, or synthetic fertilizers. Meat, eggs and dairy products can not come from animals that were given growth hormones or antibiotics.

If you’ve ever considered buying organic products but then saw the price, you may wonder why they can sometimes be so much more expensive. Quite simply it’s because organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like their non-organic farming counterparts do. Their farms are smaller and organic farming requires more work.

I started buying recycled products (paper, aluminum foil, paper towels, etc.) after my granddaughter, Laura, was born. Every time I spend the extra money on recycled goods, I just consider it an investment in her future. That’s the same way we can look at spending extra on food and products bearing these labels. Investing in a better earth for future generations, as well as caring for today’s population across the globe, is worth the added cost in the long run.

Of course, that’s only my opinion.

Keeping it green,



  1. Thanks for including the Rainforest Alliance! Just wanted to let you know that for Rainforest Alliance certification, the Sustainable Agriculture Networks Standard has over 90 criteria (standards), but 10 principles that serve as categories.

  2. Thanks for pointing out my error, Abby! I have corrected my posting to reflect the accurate information.


Search This Blog