17 Food Certification Labels Decoded

When you see a label, it helps to understand what it represents. Ana Iacob Photography/Shutterstock

If you're trying to make smart choices for the environment and your health, understanding the many seals, certifications and claims on food packing can be confusing. Here, we break the labels down, clean and simple.

American Grassfed

What it means: This third-party verified claim ensures that after weaning, animals eat nothing but grass and forage (never grain) for the their lifetimes and have continuous access to a pasture. In addition, growth hormones are prohibited and if an animal becomes ill and takes antibiotics, it is taken out of the program.

See it on: Dairy products, poultry, eggs and meat

Animal Welfare Approved

What it means: Farmers, veterinarians, researchers and scientists collaborated to develop welfare standards now called the “most stringent” by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. This third-party verified label promises that animals are raised humanely outside on true family farms on pasture or range.

See it on: Dairy products, poultry, eggs and meat

Non-GMO Project Verified

Non-GMO Project Verified label

What it means: The Non-GMO Project's seal verifies that products have been “produced according to rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance,” including testing of all GMO risk ingredients. The Project's current action threshold for testing is 0.9%, which is on par with the European Union standards. While final products don't have to be tested and the label doesn't guarantee a product is 100 percent GMO-free, you can be sure that products bearing the seal have met the highest standards possible for non-GMO, including testing, traceability, and segregation.

See it on: Dairy products, produce, coffee, tea, chocolate, meat, poultry, eggs and processed products.

USDA Organic

What it means: Certified by the National Organic Program to be at least 95 percent organic meaning no pesticides, fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, radiation or genetic engineering was used.

See it on: Produce, coffee, tea, chocolate, meat, poultry, eggs and processed products

Food Alliance Certified

Food Alliance Certified label

What it means: A third-party verified seal: No hormones, non-therapeutic antibiotics or genetically modified crops or livestock are used and pesticide use must be reduced. Plus, farmers and ranchers must provide fair and safe working conditions, ensure humane care of animals and protect soil, water and wildlife habitat.

See it on: Dairy products, produce, poultry, eggs and meat

Salmon Safe label

Salmon Safe

What it means: The product was produced in a way that keeps Pacific Northwest rivers clean for native salmon to thrive and reproduce through practices such as limiting pesticides, planting riverside trees and improving irrigation — all verified by a third-party certifier.

See it on: Dairy products, produce, poultry, eggs, meat and wine

Marine Stewardship Council

What it means: Fish comes from a sustainable fishery that's well-managed and doesn't cause environmental degradation or overfishing. This third-party certified verification also adds credibility to the words “wild-caught” on seafood packaging.

See it on: Fish

Soil Association Certified Organic

What it means: Products are certified by the UK Soil Association to exceed the legal European definition of organic — strict standards are followed to avoid pesticides, additives, GMOs, harmful chemical processes and inhumane treatment of animals.

See it on: Coffee, tea, produce, poultry, eggs, meat and wine.