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The GoEO Toolbox: How to Read Labels & Claims**

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American Grassfed Association:


Certification process which ensures that only products that abide by American Grassfed Association’s standards can use the American Grassfed Association® logo.  Standards require that all livestock are granted continuous year-round access to pasture, with grass and forage as the feed source for the animal’s entire lifetime. No antibiotics (unless to treat an illness), hormones or animal byproducts may be given to livestock.


The process: To ensure that American Grassfed Association’s standards are being met by producers, the animals are tracked from their birth until market.  Said standards are verified by an independent, third-party* on-farm audit by Auditors from Animal Welfare Approved on an annual basis.


*Purpose of third-party independent verification is to allow for an unbiased verification of producer’s/farm’s claims to have met certain labeling standards. 



Animal Welfare Approved: 


Label that has resulted from the Animal Welfare Institute’s Animal Welfare Approved program.  This label guarantees that the product came from a family farm that raised their animals humanely, outdoors on pasture or range.  This program is considered to have the most stringent animal welfare standards of any third party certification program.


For more information on the individual Animal Welfare Approved Certification standards, please visit: http://www.animalwelfareapproved.org.


The process: Voluntary process by which farmers open their farms to an independent third-party audit process to determine whether the Animal Welfare Approved standards are being met.  If requirements are met, farmers may be certified to use the American Welfare Approved label on their products.



Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Program* (STEPS 4, 5 and 5+):


The Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Program has established specific rating criteria for beef cattle, pigs and chicks raised for meat.  The Program consists of 5 tiered standards, with Tier 1-5 each having their own individual standards that must be met before a Producer’s product is given a distinct Step 1-5 label.


In essence Step 1 prohibits cages and crates. Step 2 requires environmental enrichment for indoor production systems; Step 3, outdoor access; Step 4, pasture-based production; Step 5, an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited; and, finally, Step 5+, the entire life of the animal spent on an integrated farm.  For more information on what each individual step requires, please visit: http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/our-standards/.


*Step-Rated Products are currently sold exclusively at Whole Foods Retailers across the United States.  When shopping at Whole Foods we encourage you to take note of the the numbers labeled on many of the products in the meat department.


The process: Authorized, third-party certification companies, with trained and ratified auditors, perform inspections of farms and issue Step labels, as appropriate.



Marine Stewardship Council:

The Marine Stewardship Council allows its label to be used on products that come from sustainable fisheries which are those that ensure that the catch of marine resources are at the level compatible with long-term sustainable yield, while maintaining the marine environment’s bio-diversity, productivity and ecological processes, taking into account the relevant laws, ecological sustainability and ecosystem integrity, responsible and effective management systems, sustainability of the fish stock and social considerations.


The process: There are two individual assessments that are required before the Marine Stewardship Council allows use of its label:  an environmental standard and a chain of custody standard.  Both assessments are conducted by independent third-party auditors, after which Marine Stewardship Council decides whether to grant use of its label.




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American Humane Certified:


Label that has resulted from the American Humane Association’s third-party farm animal welfare certification program.  For this label to apply specific science-based welfare standards must be met, and there must be a showing that the animals were humanely raised. 


In general, the American Humane Certification label shows that the product you are purchasing comes from a facility whose practices are more humane than the general industry standard. However, the Certification does not guarantee that the animals were raised in a completely humane manner.  Certification can apply to products produced from facilities that use controversial practices, such as the use of battery cages and debeaking. 


For more information on the individual American Humane Certification standards required, please visit:  http://thehumanetouch.org.


The process: Receiving the American Humane Certified label is a voluntary process by which producers open their farms to an independent third-party audit process, by which a third-party determines whether the producer is meeting all of the American Humane Association’s standards.  If standards are met, producers may be certified.  Only those who are certified are permitted to use the American Humane Certified label on their products.



Certified Humane:

Label that has resulted from the Humane Farm Animal Care third party certification program. Certified Humane standards exceed those of industry quality assurance programs in some respects, such as requiring minimum outdoor hours for dairy cows and cage-free systems for laying hens.  However Certification is not a guarantee that the animals were raised in a completely humane manner.  Certification can apply to products produced from facilities that use controversial practices, such as the use of battery cages and debeaking. 


For more information on the individual Certified Humane standards required, please visit:  http://www.certifiedhumane.org.


The process: Voluntary process by which producer submits to an independent third-party audit process to determine whether the Certified Humane standards are being met.  If standards are met, producers may be certified to use the Certified Humane label on their products.



Certified Organic* (Cattle, pigs, and dairy cows):

To have the organic label meat and dairy products must come from livestock that have been fed only organic feed (containing no animal by-products) and cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics.  The animals must be allowed outdoor access for at least 120 days out of the year.  Furthermore 30% of the diet must come from grazed material.


The process: Producers submit organic labeling request to USDA and are certified to use label after on-site inspection.  Producers are annually inspected thereafter to ensure compliance with USDA standards.


*All organic food products in the United States are required to be USDA certified (unless the producer sellers less than $5,000 a year).  However, you should note that for products that are at least 95% organic, the use of the USDA Seal in conjunction with the Organic label is optional.  Therefore when you see a food product simply labeled organic, you should know that it is also USDA certified.



Certified Organic* (Poultry - chickens and eggs):

To have the organic label poultry products must come from animals that have been fed only organic feed (containing no animal by-products) and cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics.  The animals must be kept cage-free and allowed outdoor access.  The amount, duration and quality of outdoor access is undefined.


The process: Producers submit organic labeling request to USDA and are certified to use label after on-site inspection.  Producers are annually inspected thereafter to ensure compliance with USDA standards.


*All organic food products in the United States are required to be USDA certified (unless the producer sellers less than $5,000 a year).  However, you should note that for products that are at least 95% organic, the use of the USDA Seal in conjunction with the Organic label is optional.  Therefore when you see a food product simply labeled organic, you should know that it is also USDA certified.



Food Alliance Certified:

Food Alliance is a nonprofit organization that certifies farms, ranches, and food processors and distributors for sustainable agricultural and facility management practices. Certification is based, in part, upon the consideration of animal health, humane treatment of animals, non-use of antibiotics, and protection of environmental resources. The organization has specific required standards for each individual food product.  Consumers interested in the specific standards used for these individual food products should visit http://foodalliance.org/certification/producer/crop%20tools-criteria.


The process: Every three years, an independent third-party site inspection is conducted by International Certification Services using detailed evaluation criteria and inspection tools to verify on-farm practices and make recommendations for awarding certification.  Inspectors employ various evaluation criteria that are specific to the product being certified. To be verified, producers must meet a specified minimum threshold.



Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Program* (STEPS 1, 2 AND 3):


The Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Program has established specific rating criteria for beef cattle, pigs and chicks raised for meat.  The Program consists of 5 tiered standards, with Tier 1-5 each having their own individual standards that must be met before a Producer’s product is given a distinct Step 1-5 label.


In essence Step 1 prohibits cages and crates. Step 2 requires environmental enrichment for indoor production systems; Step 3, outdoor access; Step 4, pasture-based production; Step 5, an animal-centered approach with all physical alterations prohibited; and, finally, Step 5+, the entire life of the animal spent on an integrated farm.  For more information on what each individual step requires, please visit http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/the-5-step-program/our-standards/.


*Step-Rated Products are currently sold exclusively at Whole Foods Retailers across the United States.  When shopping at Whole Foods we encourage you to take note of the the numbers labeled on many of the products in the meat department. 


The process: Authorized, third-party certification companies, with trained and ratified auditors, perform inspections of farms and issue Step labels, as appropriate.



rBGH-free / rBST-free:

A label overseen by the FDA or State Agencies. rBGH/ rBST is a genetically engineered growth hormone that is injected into dairy cows to artificially increase their milk production.  Companies who do not use rBGH/rBST on their cows may voluntarily inform customers of this fact in their product labels, provided any statements made are truthful and not misleading.


The process:

The FDA has stated that producers are free to use rBGH labeling claims, as long as they are not misleading.  Claims are not independently verified.  Certain states, however, have more stringent requirements so interested consumers should be aware of their own state’s labeling requirements for rBGH.



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No Antibiotics Added /Used or Raised Without Antibiotics:

According to the USDA the term "no antibiotics added" may be used on packages for meat or poultry products if the animals were raised without antibiotics.


This label is inapplicable for products that come from large-scale industrial facilities that regularly use antibiotics to achieve maximum growth and ward off numerous diseases that occur as a result of unsanitary conditions.  These labels are also inapplicable if any antibiotics were used to treat a sick animal.


The process: Producer submits labeling claims to USDA, accompanied by documentation that animals have not received antibiotics.  The Producer’s claims are approved or denied by the USDA without independent review or verification.



Cage-Free:

According to the USDA cage-free means that laying hens live uncaged, generally within an enclosed area. They must have unlimited access to food and water and the freedom to roam within the enclosed area.  They are not necessarily granted access to the outdoors. 


The process: If a producer is making a Cage Free labeling claim to the USDA, it is verified by a visual inspection conducted by a USDA official.  However, many egg producers that use the cage-free claim on their packages have not submitted claims to the USDA, and are instead regulated by state law or not regulated at all.  Consumers should therefore distinguish between products USDA certified cage-Free eggs (and know a visual inspection has been made) and other cage-free claims, which should be considered on a state-by-state basis.



Farmer-owned:

No certification process required, self-made claim.


The process: This self-made claim is a not based on any verifiable regulatory definition; therefore neither the USDA nor an independent third party verify the claims of companies that use this label, unless otherwise specified.




Free-Range/Free-Roaming (EGGS):

Free Range/Free Roaming label claims for eggs can only be used if the products are USDA Certified Organic.  To obtain this label, hens must allowed some access to outdoors.


The process: If part of the USDA Organic Program, producers submit organic labeling request to USDA and are certified to use label after on-site inspection.  However, many egg producers that use the free-range/free-roaming claim on their labels have not submitted claims to the USDA, and are instead regulated by state law or not regulated at all.  Consumers should therefore distinguish between products that are USDA certified free-range/free-roaming eggs (and know an on-site inspection has been conducted) and other free-range/free-roaming claims, which should be considered on a state-by-state basis.



Free-Range/Free-Roaming (POULTRY):

The USDA only defines the term free-range in relation to broiler chickens.  To be considered free-range, producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed continuous access to the outside for a significant portion of their lives. 


The process: Producer submits free-range labeling claims to USDA, accompanied by documentation describing the housing conditions of the birds.  The Producer’s claims are approved or denied by the USDA without independent review or verification.



Free Range / Free Roaming/Pasture Raised (LIVESTOCK):

Products coming from livestock which bear these claims must come from animals that had outdoor access for a significant portion of their lives.


The process: Producer submits free-range labeling claims to USDA, accompanied by documentation describing the housing conditions of the livestock.  The Producer’s claims are approved or denied by the USDA without independent review or verification.



Grass-fed:

According to the USDA this self-made claim can be used if the diet of animals is “derived solely from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state.  Animals cannot be fed grain or grain by products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.


The process: This claim is a recommended standard instead of a regulatory definition; therefore the USDA does not verify the claims of companies that apply for these labels.



Grass Finished:

Self-made claim that implies that during the last 90-160 days of life, cattle was fattened via the use of a grass-based diet.


The process: This self-made claim is a not based on any verifiable regulatory definition; therefore neither the USDA nor an independent third party verify the claims of companies that use this label, unless otherwise specified.

 



Humanely Raised:

The meaning of this claim varies widely by producer, as humanely raised is not a USDA defined label.  In order to use the label claim, a producer must explain (on the product) what humanely raised means in that context.


The process: Generally, the producer submits their humanely raised labeling claims to USDA, accompanied by documentation describing the use of the term in that context.  The Producer’s claims are approved or denied by the USDA without independent review or verification.  However, the USDA does sometimes accept some third-party verification of humanely raised claims, as it has done with the USDA reviewed and approved Certified Humane and American Humane Certified program.



No Hormones Administered / Added:

The claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the packages of pork or poultry unless followed by a statement that says, "federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."  However, the term "no hormones administered" may be approved for use on the label of beef products if no hormones have been used in raising the animals.


The process: Producer submits labeling claims to USDA, accompanied by documentation verifying that no hormones have been administered.  The Producer’s claims are approved or denied by the USDA without independent review or verification.



Natural:

According to the USDA, a natural product does not contain any artificial ingredients or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed.")


However, the natural claim has more to do with how an animal was slaughtered, or how a product was produced, than how the animal itself was raised.  Natural products can come from animals who have been administrated both hormones and antibiotics on a regular basis.  Furthermore, the natural claim provides no information on the welfare of the animals involved.


The process: Producer submits free-range labeling claims to USDA, accompanied by documentation.  The Producer’s claims are approved or denied by the USDA without independent review or verification.



Pasture-raised:

Self-made claim that indicates that an animal was raised on a pasture where they are able to graze freely on a diet of grass. 


The process: This self-made claim is a not based on any verifiable regulatory definition; therefore neither the USDA nor an independent third party verify the claims of companies that use this label, unless otherwise specified.



**We strongly encourage consumers to do additional research on all labels and claims they encounter. Many are questionable and lack sufficient validation. Should you come across any questionable claims or labels you think are misleading, GoEO is always here to help.   Please let us know at team@go-eo.net the product name, specific claim or label and why you have reason to doubt its context.  (We will research the claim and get back to you with any helpful information.) Finally, we would like to point out that in the case of many products with no label or certification you may come across at farmers markets, it does not necessarily mean that the farm is not humane or sustainable - but it does mean you absolutely must do additional research to make that determination!