As a consumer, you want to buy products that won’t impair the health of your family or impose any harmful effects on the environment. However, your good intentions to support humane, eco-conscious products may be misguided through products that are ambiguously labeled. There are a number of labels and terms used on products that are intended to boost their eco-friendly selling point without actually adhering to environmentally responsible standards. Fortunately, there are also labels that represent sound environmental certifications and are rigorously regulated.
Here are four of the top labels you see in the market and what they actually mean:
- USDA Organic
The organic certification is conducted through the United States Department of Agriculture, which monitors the production standards implemented in the growth, processing and packing of the food.
To receive organic certification, farmers must avoid:
- Synthetic chemicals, such as fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and food additives, in their agricultural practices.
- Farmers must also use organic seed, rather than those that are genetically modified.
- The USDA’s periodic inspections ensure the farmland is free from prohibited chemical inputs for at least three years before the farm is fully certified.
- Livestock must be produced without genetic engineering, housed in an eco-conscious way, fed 100 percent organic feed and managed without antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic produce must also be clearly separated from any non-certified products that are processed and packaged.
- Fair Trade
As the production and consumer market grows internationally, there are many environmental and socioeconomic factors that should be taken into consideration.
- Environmental, labor and development standards.
- Fair Trade International certification currently covers bananas, honey, oranges, cocoa, coffee, shortbread, cotton, dried and fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and oil seeds, quinoa, rice, spices, sugar, tea and wine.
- The Fair Trade organization teaches farmers and workers the nuances of the free market, so they are properly compensated for the sale of their products. The Fair Trade organization helps workers in developing countries create sustainable businesses and fosters partnerships with companies who require their goods.
- Energy Star
Energy Star is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program:
- That integrates eco-friendly and sustainable functions into everyday, household appliances.
- According to an EPA study of greenhouse gas emissions, families and businesses that utilize energy-efficient products have prevented more than 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the past 20 years.
- Products that have an Energy Star certification are tested for their energy efficiency by a third-party that is EPA-recognized. Energy Star products include fridges, dishwashers, washers and dryers, air conditioners, light bulbs and water heaters. You can find a complete list of Energy Star products on its website.
The USDA doesn’t regulate the labels of “non-toxic,” “toxin-free” or “natural” that are placed on household cleaners, hygiene products and cosmetics. Many of the products that claim to be non-toxic aren’t held to any production standard and may contain toxic chemicals. It is best to look for products that are labeled with EcoCert, Leaping Bunny, USDA Certified Biobased and USDA Certified Organic.
The next time you go shopping or purchase anything make sure you are spending your money wisely, checking labels so that you can keep your family healthy. We all need to do our research and become educated so that we can have a positive impact on saving our planet and giving our children the best chance for a healthy and happy future.