Labeling may not seem like a particularly exciting topic, but it is extremely important to those with nut allergies, diabetics and those busy people everywhere who rely on labels to know what's inside the foods they eat. Consider the heated controversy over whether genetically engineered foods should be explicitly labeled, or the ongoing fight over country-of-origin seals and how that relates to recent scares over food imported from China. When it comes to the much-touted word "organic," there is much at stake. Not only is the sector the fastest growing in the food industry, but also advocates are positioning organics as a great hope in the battle to protect the environment from the ravages of industrial agriculture and even oil-fueled climate change. There are perhaps as many detailed definitions of "organic" as there are farmers, chefs and consumers. But here are some of the most important labels:
USDA Organic: In 2000, after a 10-year development process, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rolled out its rules covering use of the word "organic" on foods. The USDA accredits independent certifiers, who then check the claims of producers. The system has three levels:
As in North America, organic farming continues to grow in popularity on the other side of the pond, to the tune of around 30% a year. In June, the EU released new rules on organic labeling, designed to simplify the process. The place where the products were farmed has to be listed, and no genetically modified ingredients are allowed. Food carrying the EU's organic logo must be at least 95% organic, although other products can list organic ingredients.
Learn more here.
JAS System (Japan)
The market for healthy and organic foods has been particularly robust in Japan, where a rigorous labeling and certification process for organics was launched in 2000 under the country's JAS (Japanese Agricultural Standard) umbrella.
Learn more here.
NutriClean: Free of Pesticide Residues Certification Program
The company Scientific Certification Systems (SCS) developed the NutriClean program to indicate that labeled products are tested for pesticide residues, and that the results fall within set limits. The NutriClean label does not necessarily mean that no pesticides were used in production, however.
IP (Integrated Production) Labels
More than 100 groups around the world administer labels for integrated pest management that adhere to standards set by the International Organization of Biological Control (IOBC). Integrated pest management is a method of farming and gardening with a decreased (or zero) input of man-made chemicals, and instead relies on physical and biological controls. Examples of IP labels in the U.S. include CORE Values (for Northeast IPM-grown Apples) and Partners with Nature in Massachusetts (for many products). Learn more here.
SAFE FOOD WATCH: Truth in Organics
A special report about the USDA organic program and the government proposal to allow dozens of non-organic ingredients in certified "organic" foods.
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