You’re used to decoding double-speak in your life (like when your boss says your big idea is “interesting” and “has potential”), but when you’re standing in the grocery store, staring at various labels like “grass-fed” and “organic,” it can much more difficult to read between the lines. Which of these healthy-seeming, possibly-sustainable claims are regulated and meaningful–and which are bogus advertising lingo, meant to draw in well-meaning consumers like you?
Labels can be a contentious issue for several reasons. Some are certified and verified by the government–but they’re also expensive to get, making them fiscally impossible for small farms. Which means that many sustainable, humane growers can’t get the certification their consumers might like to see, despite being one of the best local food sources. Meanwhile, commercial growers who understand loopholes and legal language can afford to get the labels–while remaining irresponsible, cruel to their animals, unfair to their laborers, and generally not someone you’d like to support.
Making the water murkier is the dilemma of unregulated labels, like “humanely-raised” or “cage-free,” which require no actual inspection by any outside body, and can be applied to just about anything that is at least partially true.
So how do you know which labels you can trust? To start, there’s an app for that. Created by Consumer Reports, Eco-Labels is an iPhone app that parse out how meaningful the various claims on your next purchase may be, to help you decide whether or not there’s a better alternative.
But, if you don’t have a smart-phone, or don’t feel like being the gal that whips out her iPhone in the produce aisle, here’s a quick primer on some of the labels that are the most and least trust-worthy, according to both Consumer Reports, and the University of Arizona.