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What’s in a name? Certification labels in the market

Eamon Molloy

Shopping at the farmers market or in a grocery, you’ll find a variety of labels and claims. Some farms and food artisans enroll in a certification program to verify the claims they make about their products. We’ll explore each certification more deeply in future issues. For now, here’s a short overview of the most common certification labels you’ll find in the market.

Organic – The use of the word “organic” on labels is regulated by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. As defined by the United States Dept of Agriculture (USDA),

"Organic is a labeling term for food or other agricultural products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity in accordance with the USDA organic regulations. This means that organic operations must maintain or enhance soil and water quality, while also conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used."

Any operation, or portion of operation, that produces or handles crops, livestock, livestock products, or other agricultural products that are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” must be certified organic by a USDA-accredited certifying agent.

Businesses with selling less than $5,000 worth of organic products a year are exempt from certification. The most common accredited certifying agents used by farms and producers at the market are Oregon Tilth, Oregon Dept of Agriculture and Washington Dept of Agriculture.

Learn more about the National Organic Program: https://www.ams.usda.gov/programs-offices/national-organic-program

Animal Welfare Approved by AGW – This certification is applied to meat, dairy and egg products. Farms and ranches must provide animals with continual access to pasture or range so they can perform natural and instinctive behaviors essential to their health and well-being. The farms and ranches submit to an annual third-party audit to verify compliance with the standards. Learn more about Animal Welfare Approved: https://agreenerworld.org/solutions-and-certificates/animal-welfare-approved/

Certified Grassfed by AGW – This certification is an optional addition to the Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW for beef and dairy cattle, meat and dairy sheep, meat and dairy goat and bison. Certified Grassfed by AGW is the only certification in the US that guarantees the animals are fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet through an annual farm audit. Learn more about  Certified Grassfed by AGW: https://agreenerworld.org/solutions-and-certificates/certified-grass-fed/

Certified Naturally Grown – Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) was founded in 2002 to offer a complement to the National Organic Program (NOP). CNG is tailored for direct market farms. Standards are based on the NOP but Certified Naturally Grown is not affiliated with NOP. CNG certified farms are required to be fully committed to robust organic practices. Unlike the other labels, Certified Naturally Grown uses a peer review model of audits rather than the third-party required for certification under the USDA National Organic program. Learn more about Certified Naturally Grown: https://www.cngfarming.org