Green Dining Glossary

Common Food Related Claims and Certifications

From the Food Alliance’s Guide to Developing a Sustainable Food Purchasing Policy.

Antibiotic Claims
The USDA has prohibited use of the term “Antibiotic Free” as a label claim for meats and poultry, but allows “Raised Without Antibiotics” or “No Antibiotics Administered.” These claims imply that no antibiotics were administered to the animal at any point during its life. If an animal becomes sick and requires treatment, it should be segregated from other animals and sold as a conventional meat product. There is often no independent verification of these antibiotic claims.

Beyond Organic
This term is used informally to describe farms with management practices that go beyond the minimum requirements of the USDA organic standards. The term is not regulated and has no standard industry definition, making it very difficult to evaluate as a claim. Ask suppliers using the term to describe in more detail what they mean by it. There is no independent verification of this claim.

Cage Free
This is a first party claim that poultry were raised without cages. This does not guarantee that birds were raised with access to the outdoors or on pasture. Birds may have been raised in large flocks in commercial confinement facilities with open floor plans. There is often no independent verification of “Cage Free” claims.

Certified Humane
The Certified Humane Raised & Handled Label is a consumer certification and labeling program which indicates that egg, dairy, meat or poultry products have been produced with the welfare of the farm animal in mind. Farm animal treatment standards include: Allow animals to engage in their natural behaviors; Raise animals with sufficient space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress; Make sure they have ample fresh water and a healthy diet without added antibiotics or hormones. Producers also must comply with local, state and federal environmental standards. Processors must comply with the American Meat Institute Standards, a higher standard for slaughtering farm animals than the Federal Humane Slaughter Act. More information can be found at:

Fair Trade Certified
Fair Trade standards aim to ensure that farmers in developing nations receive a fair price for their product, and have direct trade relations with buyers and access to credit. They encourage sustainable farming practices, and discourage the use of child labor and certain pesticides. To bear the label, products must be grown by small scale, democratically organized producers. Fair Trade Certified products include coffee, hot chocolate, tea, candy, chocolate, sweeteners, fruit, rice and grains. TransFair USA is the third party certifier of Fair Trade goods in the US. It is one of twenty members of Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, the umbrella organization that sets the certification standards. More information can be found at:

Food Alliance Certified
Food Alliance is a nonprofit organization that operates a third party certification program for socially and environmentally responsible agricultural practices. Food Alliance certification distinguishes farmers and ranchers who: Provide safe and fair working conditions; Ensure healthy and humane care for livestock; Do not use hormones or nontherapeutic antibiotics; Do not produce genetically modified crops or livestock; Reduce pesticide use and toxicity; Conserve soil and water resources; Protect and enhance wildlife habitat; and, Demonstrate continuous improvement. Food Alliance certification distinguishes food processors, manufacturers and distributors who: Source Food Alliance Certified ingredients; Ensure quality control and food safety; Do not use artificial flavors, colors or preservatives; Provide safe and fair working conditions; Reduce use of toxic and hazardous materials; Conserve energy and water; Manage solid waste responsibly; and, Demonstrate continuous improvement. More information can be found at:

Free Range
Free Range and related terms are popular label claims for poultry and eggs, and sometimes seen on other meats. Free range is regulated by the USDA for use on poultry only (not eggs), which requires that birds be given access to the outdoors for an undetermined period each day. In practice, the “Free Range” claim does not guarantee that the animal actually spent any period of time outdoors, only that access was available. Birds may have been raised in large flocks in commercial confinement facilities with open floor plans. There is often no independent verification of “Free Range” claims.

Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Claims
With growing consumer concern for genetically modified crops and livestock entering the food supply chain, a number of companies have begun to assert “GMO Free” and related claims. In many cases, there is no independent verification of “GMO Free” claims. Some certification programs, such as Organic and Food Alliance, prohibit genetically modified ingredients in certified foods and have corresponding inspection protocols. However, laboratory test may be necessary to provide maximum surety there has been no cross contamination of products.

As defined by the American Grassfed Association, this claims means that animals live on pasture, consume a natural forage diet, and do not receive hormone or antibiotic treatments. However, the USDA, in a standard published for comment in 2006, has defined “grassfed” to only mean animals that consume a diet of grasses and silage. The USDA standard does not prohibit confinement or hormone and antibiotic treatments. Suppliers should be clear which standard they claim to meet. There is currently no independent verification of this claim under either standard. Note that “Grassfed” claims are sometimes qualified with supplemental “Grain Finished” claims. This combination describes the conventional industrial livestock feeding model, and invalidates the “Grassfed” claim.

Hormone Claims
The USDA has prohibited use of the term “Hormone Free,” but meats can be labeled “No Hormones Administered” meaning that the animals in question did not receive hormone injections or feed supplements. Claims are also frequently asserted that milk products are “rBGH Free” and/or “rBST Free.” (rBGH and rBST are hormone supplements given to dairy cows to increase milk production.) Federal law prohibits the use of hormones in hogs and poultry, so hormone claims for chicken or pork should be considered misleading. There is often no independent verification of hormone claims.

Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest management that employs a variety of farming practices (such as encouraging beneficial insects) to avoid and mitigate pest problems. IPM programs use information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment, in combination with available pest control strategies, to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. IPM rarely appears independently in product related claims, but is a basis for pest management standards under certification programs such as Food Alliance and Protected Harvest.

Local Claims
Local is most often defined as food grown within a particular geographic area or within a specific distance from the point of consumer purchase. Defined this way, the claim is frequently linked to “food miles” as a proximate measure for environmental impact. Another way to consider “local,” however, is food which comes from an identifiable community, which is grown and marketed by midsized and smaller producers, producer cooperatives, and producer owned businesses. This definition speaks more to public interest in preserving family scale agriculture, and in strengthening local and regional economies. Regardless of emphasis, local claims are most often asserted in direct marketing contexts. Local by itself does not guarantee that the food was produced to any social or environmental standard, or under any particular ownership structure. There is often no independent verification of local claims.

Marine Stewardship Council
The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a nonprofit organization that promotes responsible fishing practices. The MSC label assures buyers that products come from a well managed fishery and have not contributed to overfishing. The three principles of the MSC certification standard are: 1) The condition of the fish stocks (examines if there are enough fish to ensure that the fishery is sustainable); The impact of the fishery on the marine environment (examines the effect that fishing has on the immediate marine environment including other non target fish species, marine mammals and seabirds); 3) The fishery management systems (evaluates the rules and procedures that are in place, as well as how they are implemented, to maintain a sustainable fishery and to ensure that the impact on the marine environment is minimized). More information can be found at:

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Guide
The Seafood Watch guide is designed to raise consumer awareness about the importance of buying seafood from sustainable sources. The guide recommends which seafood to buy or avoid, helping consumers to become advocates for environmentally friendly seafood. Recommendations are based on peer reviewed research and government agency reports. Seafood Watch is associated with the Seafood Choices Alliance which, along with other seafood awareness campaigns, provides seafood purveyors with recommendations on seafood choices. More information can be found at:

USDA guidelines state that “Natural” meat and poultry products can only undergo minimal processing and cannot contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or other artificial ingredients. “Natural” is used with similar meaning with other food products as well. Beyond this limited definition, “natural” should be considered a meaningless claim. The term does not offer any information about the social or environmental impact of the product. It does not guarantee that livestock were humanely raised, or not treated with hormones and antibiotics. It does not guarantee that crops were raised according to any standard. There is typically no independent verification of “natural” claims.

In order to be labeled “organic” products must meet the federal organic standards as determined by a USDA approved certifying agency. Organic foods cannot be grown using synthetic fertilizers, chemicals, or sewage sludge; cannot be genetically modified; and cannot be irradiated. Organic meat and poultry must be fed only organically grown feed (without any animal byproducts) and cannot be treated with hormones or antibiotics. In order to bear the USDA “Certified Organic” seal, a product must contain 95 to 100 percent organic ingredients. Products that contain more than 70 percent, but less than 94 percent organic ingredients can be labeled “Made with Organic Ingredients,” but cannot use the USDA “Certified Organic” seal. Organic ingredients can be listed on the packaging of products that are not entirely organic. More information can be found at:

Pastured or Pasture Raised
This claim indicates the animal was raised outdoors on a pasture, and implies that it ate primarily grasses and other naturally occurring foods commonly found in pastures. In fact, feeding practices may vary. There is typically no independent verification of “pastured” claims. (See also “Grassfed” above.)

Protected Harvest certified
Protected Harvest is a nonprofit organization that independently certifies farmers for ecologically based practices in nine different management categories: Field scouting, Information sources, Pest management decisions, Field management decisions, Weed management, Insect management, Disease management, Soil and water quality, and Storage management. In order to qualify for certification, growers must stay below an established total number of “Toxicity Units” per acre and avoid use of certain high risk pesticides. Chain of custody audits are implemented to ensure the integrity of Protected Harvest’s certification. More information can be found at:

Rainforest Alliance Certified
The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land‐use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is found on coffee, cocoa, chocolate, bananas, orange juice, guava, pineapple, passion fruit, plantains, macademia nuts and other tropical products. On certified farms, rainforest is conserved, workers are treated fairly, soil and water quality are not compromised, waste is managed efficiently, chemical use is dramatically reduced and relations with surrounding communities are strong. More information can be found at:

Transitional Organic
Currently, the USDA does not allow a “transitional organic” label claim. However, suppliers may informally assert a “transitional organic” claim to describe food produced using organic methods on farms that are in the 3 year transition period required for organic certification. There is no independent verification of “transitional organic” claims, and no guarantee that these farms will ultimately qualify for organic certification.

Vegetarian Diet
This is a first party claim that livestock were not fed any animal byproducts. With the appearance of “mad cow disease,” which is transmitted through animal byproducts added to cattle feed, vegetarian diet are increasing. The claim does not indicate that animals were fed a natural forage diet. Animals may have been fed corn or other grains, agricultural byproducts or food processing wastes (such as potato peels). Animals may also have received antibiotics or other feed supplements. There is often no independent verification of vegetarian diet claims.

Additional information on these and other labeling claims can be found at: Consumers Union Guide to Environmental Claims and Sustainable Table.