The roots of the natural product industry and organic agriculture movement are founded in an overall concern for the health of the planet and all things living on the planet and as a result, the movement to grow and produce foods and health products came to encompass a wider array of issues including sustainable agriculture and fishing, animal welfare, and fair trade practices among suppliers, manufacturers, and retailers.  Non-profit organizations researched the issues, then created standards and certification programs, including their own seals of approval, which are intended to educate consumers and create preference and loyalty to the products that displayed the new generation of eco-labels. 

Why this matters:

Awareness among consumers to where food comes from and how it is processed and manufactured has grown due to various books and documentaries.  As a result, consumers who want to purchase products that fit within the standards they have set for themselves and their families look for information on product labels that tell them if the product qualifies for their purchase.  For example, vegan customers shop in natural food stores specifically because they can find products guaranteed to fit their lifestyle choices. 

Sustainable Agriculture

The Rainforest Alliance – The Rainforest Alliance works to arrest the major drivers of deforestation and environmental destruction: timber extraction, agricultural expansion, cattle ranching, and tourism and ensure millions of acres of working forests, farms, ranchlands, and hotel properties are managed according to rigorous sustainability standards. The non-profit organization links those businesses to the conscientious consumers through the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal and Rainforest Alliance Verified™ mark.

Animal Welfare

Many labeling programs make claims that animals were treated humanely during the production cycle, but the verification of these claims varies widely since the labeling programs are not regulated.  Retail store owners and managers are best served to obtain information directly from each organization and their participating suppliers that validate the claims made on the labels.

Certified Humane Raised & Handled® – The Certified Humane Raised and Handled® Label is a consumer certification and labeling program. This label indicates that an egg, dairy, meat, or poultry product has been produced with the welfare of the farm animal in mind.  Food products that carry the label are certified to have come from facilities that meet precise, objective standards for farm animal treatment.

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) – The AWA is a food label for meat and dairy products that come from farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. The program was founded in 2006 as a market-based solution to the growing consumer demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products from animals treated with high welfare and managed with the environment in mind.

The Global Animal Partnership – Founded in 2008 this collective organization of farmers, scientists, ranchers, retailers, and animal advocates implemented a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Standard that recognizes and rewards producers for their welfare practices, promotes and facilitates continuous improvement, and better informs consumers about the production systems. As of January 1, 2014, the 5-Step program included 2,415 farms and ranches that range from Step 1 to Step 5+ and raised more than 147 million animals annually.

Certified Vegan – The Certified Vegan logo is found on foods that contain no animal ingredients or by-products, use no animal ingredients or by-products in their production, and are not tested on animals. The logo is administered by the Vegan Awareness Foundation, also known as Vegan Action, a nonprofit organization that relies on written statements and annual agreements.

Leaping Bunny – Eight national animal protection groups banded together to form the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC).  Companies certified through the Coalition’s Leaping Bunny Program make a voluntary pledge to eliminate animal testing from all stages of product development. The companies’ ingredient suppliers make the same pledge and the result is a product guaranteed to be 100 percent free of new animal testing.

Sustainable Fishing

Fish is consistently recommended as an excellent source of protein and key nutrients; however, there are many concerns about the quality of fish due to pollution, sustainable fisheries, and the impact of modern fishing practices on the ecosystem.  These organizations represent some of the recognized regional and international efforts to create standards, review practices, and promote safe and sustainable fish to consumers via their program’s eco-label.

FishWise – This West Coast program collaborates with producers, suppliers, retailers, and restaurants to promote the health and recovery of ocean ecosystems by providing innovative market-based tools to the seafood industry. They support sustainability through environmentally responsible business practices.  They offer several services for businesses throughout the seafood supply chain including product assessment, policy development, sourcing support, improvement projects, staff training, consumer outreach, traceability support, and strategic communication.

Dolphin Safe Seal

Dolphin Safe Tuna – Originated by the Earth Island Institute, the Dolphin Safe initiative developed international standards for tuna fishing without netting or harming dolphins.  Since its founding, the program has won agreements with 90% of the world’s tuna canners – over 300 companies in 51 nations – that they will not sell tuna caught by chasing, netting, or killing dolphins. 

Marine Stewardship Council – An international eco label and fishery certification program whose mission is to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices.  The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) develops standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability and ensures that MSC-labelled seafood comes from, and can be traced back to, a sustainable fishery.  MSC standards and requirements meet global best practice guidelines for certification and eco-labeling programs.

Salmon-Safe – This certifying program was founded by a northwest regional network of organizations in 2008 that works to keep urban and agricultural watersheds clean enough for native salmon to spawn and thrive.  It has become one of the nation's leading regional eco-labels with more than 60,000 acres of farm and urban lands certified in Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia. The Salmon-Safe retail campaign has been featured in 300 supermarkets and natural food stores, delivering important marketplace benefits to participating landowners.

Fair Business Practices

Fairtrade is an ethical trade system that puts people first. Fairtrade offers farmers and workers in developing countries a better deal, and the opportunity to improve their lives and invest in their future.  Fairtrade gives consumers the opportunity to help reduce poverty and instigate change through everyday shopping.  While Fair Trade certified products often are also certified organic, the Fair Trade logo does not include organic certification.  Staff and customers should look for a separate USDA organic label to assure that the product is organic.

Fair Trade Certified™ – The Fair Trade USA label is an independent, third-party, consumer guarantee that companies have complied with strict economic, social, and environmental criteria for particular products, thereby creating a more equitable and sustainable trade system for producers.

The principal criteria of Fair Trade certification are:

  • Direct trade with farmer organizations, bypassing unnecessary middlemen,
  • Fair prices for farmers, and decent working and living conditions for workers,
  • Free association of workers/farmers, with structures for democratic decision-making,
  • Access to pre-financing, and additional premiums for community and business development, and
  • Sustainable agricultural and farm management practices, including restricted use of agrochemicals and no GMOs.

Fairtrade International – This non-profit association of 25 countries coordinates Fairtrade labeling at an international level. With an office in Bonn, Germany, the organization sets international Fairtrade standards, organizes support for producers around the world, develops global Fairtrade strategy, and promotes trade justice internationally.

National Green Pages™ Seal of Approval - Green America is a not-for-profit membership organization founded in 1982 with the mission to ‘harness economic power—the strength of consumers, investors, businesses, and the marketplace—to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society”.  Their National Green Pages is a directory of eligible businesses that are screened for both social and environmentally responsible values and operations.  In most cases, this seal may be found in manufacturer literature.

Global Warming, Carbon Management & Waste Management

Carbonfree® Certified – The Certified Carbonfree® seal was the first Carbon Neutral Label in the United States.  The Carbonfree® product certification process determines a product’s carbon footprint, advises how to reduce it where possible, and offsets the remaining emissions through third-party validated carbon reduction projects.  NSF International, a leading testing and certification organization, and developed and implemented the program.

Carbon Neutral Certification – Verus Carbon Neutral is a team of engineers, scientists, financial analysts, and communications professionals who specialize in the measurement and reduction of energy use and environmental impact. Their purpose is to create affordable ways to enable businesses to understand and control their life-cycle energy use and resulting greenhouse gas generated from product manufacturing and services.  They certify for recycled content and carbon-neutral impact based on carbon offsets.

Certified Compostable – The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is a not-for-profit association of individuals and groups from government, industry, and academia.  They educate manufacturers, legislators, and consumers about the importance of scientifically based standards for compostable materials that biodegrade in large composting facilities through their compostable label program.  Member companies that have their finished products certified can use the logo on products and packages to provide assurance of compostability or biodegradability.  Those plastic products are designed to biodegrade quickly, completely and safely, when composted in well-run municipal and commercial facilities. Passing the certification specifications means that a product will biodegrade completely, quickly, and safely, just like craft paper, yard trimmings, and food scraps.  No plastic residues will be left behind to destroy the value of the finished compost.


Words to Remember


An icon or graphic seal that is displayed on product labels and product and manufacturer literature. These icons are intended to convey an instant, reassuring message to consumers about the quality, standards, values, and commitments of the manufacturers to the requirements of certifying organizations. The right to include the eco-label is granted by the certifying organization.


The absence of any ingredients or materials that contain genetically engineered organisms.

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