You’ve heard the buzzwords organic and sustainable. You even know why eating natural and ethically sourced food is crucial for your health. Now, you just need reliable ways to ensure you’re buying sustainably sourced quality food.
Eating sustainably sourced, organic food is definitely on an upward trend in recent years. Surveys now indicate that 65% of millennials will pay more for goods that they know were sourced responsibly, and 28% of baby boomers would pay more for the same goods.
But how can you make sure that companies aren’t passing off their food as healthy and sustainably sourced, just to get in on this trend? Here are three ways to check that your food is organic and sustainably sourced, helping you take steps to lead a greener life.
1. The Way to Read Labels
It can be a chore to keep track of what’s on your grocery list, not to mention the products’ prices. However, there’s one more thing you should be checking: labels. Here’s what they mean and the certification criteria:
Farmers operating under the USDA organic label can’t use any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or antibiotics in their practices. They’re also heavily monitored when it comes to using synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Only 95% of the ingredients need to be organic when it comes to food production, so keep in mind that some non-organic substances will remain in these labeled products.
Non-GMO Project Verified
This is another standard label you’ll see on food products. It ensures your food is free from GMOs. However, this only certifies there are no GMOs in your food, not that it’s organic in any way.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW
This label is one to look for if you care about the general treatment of animals. Farmers receive this certification if they raise their livestock on a pasture or range. They can’t participate in dual production practices and must be independent of large corporations.
American Grassfed or Certified Grassfed by AGA
If you want to ensure livestock was only fed a strict diet of grass throughout their lives, you can’t go wrong with either of these labels. Both certify that the livestock was raised without confinement and received no hormones or antibiotics, either.
Marine Stewardship Council and Farmed Responsibly ASC Certified
At the moment, the USDA doesn’t certify seafood as organic. The Marine Stewardship Council and the Farmed Responsibly ASC Certified labels provide standards for fish caught or farmed sustainably. While there are currently no organic options for fish, the USDA and FDA regulate all seafood practices. In the meantime, search for these labels to ensure you’re making sustainable agriculture choices that promote healthy ecosystems when it comes to seafood.
Food Justice Certification, Fair Trade Certified or Fairtrade International
Labels to ensure the fair treatment of workers also exist and are another consideration as you shop. The Food Justice Certification label rates at the top of the list, as it offers standards like fair wages and prices for farmers and additional social justice rights. Other labels like Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade International also ensure social justice rights but don’t offer many standards.
2. The Way to Tell if Produce Is Organic
Now that you’re a label pro, you’ll know how to tell if your fruits or vegetables are organic if they’re in a prepackaged bag or container. What if you want to keep up your practice of clean eating and are considering buying organic apples sold loose in the produce section? There’s a simple way to find out if this food is legitimate.
All loose produce will have a PLU sticker, or rubber band, with a code of four to six numbers. If the code is four digits, that means the product is non-organic. However, the produce is certified organic if the code has five digits and begins with nine.
You can also determine if your fruit or vegetable is fair trade certified by noticing if the code has six digits. Produce can be labeled as both organic and fair trade. If this is the case, the code will be six digits, and the number nine will appear in the second series of the numbers.
3. The Way to Tell if Food Sold at Farmers Markets Is Organic
Labels and PLU codes are not used at farmers markets, making your quest to determine if food is organic or not a bit more complicated. However, the USDA has a strict policy mandating that no farmer may label or market a food product without proper certification. This process is intensive and requires high standards for farmers to meet.
If a farmer sells a product as certified organic, you may ask to see their USDA certification paperwork, which they are supposed to have on hand when selling their produce. Most farmers will be happy to share this information and explain more about their growing process. Do note that depending on the net worth of their products, less than $5,000 annually, some farmers may be exempt from the organic certification process.
Suppose you still have questions about the practices of specific farmers. In that case, you can consider asking the organizer of the farmers market or someone in your community, as they have likely developed a well-known reputation over the years.
The Way to a Greener and Healthier Life
People who want to ensure their food is organic and sustainably sourced have options. Doing a little bit of digging will result in peace of mind when it’s time to eat the food you shopped so diligently for.
Photography by Olesia Bahrii