WeMet Martin

Fitness & Nutrition Coach Virtual Assistant

It can be so difficult to navigate through all of the research and the validity of Organic, Certified Humane, Pasture raised, Grass fed, etc. For so long, I was not buying organic food, because I thought it was a scam. I heard organic vegetable/fruit farms were next to non-organic farms and the pesticides would blow over to the organic farm anyway (which is probably true), but I never did the research to see what the benefits were or further details regarding organic fruit and vegetables. As far as meat/dairy/eggs goes, I never understood the difference between organic, humanely raised, grass fed, or pasture raised – which is why I never bought it. It also seemed way too expensive to sustainably feed a family of four in California.

When I started to get serious about my fitness goals- I began tracking my macros and upping my protein intake. I was eating a lot more meat, dairy, and eggs. At this time, the meat at the mainstream grocery stores started to gross me out – the chicken breast was so big, unnatural looking, and the texture started to feel weird. Then I started seeing things on Instagram about them painting the meat red for appearance. Ew! Not only did the meat start to gross me out, but I had learned in my NASM nutrition program the importance of “quality food”. With this, I began to do my research and I finally gave in to the world of clean food and I am so happy I opened these doors!

Now, I primarily buy organic, humanely raised, grass fed, and pasture raised products when I can and when it makes sense to me. I feel even if you are buying 50-80% clean foods in the household, it still pushes toward cleaner eating and you are taking more advantage of the macro and micro nutrients in these foods than if you were buying generic, non-certified foods. The food is definitely more expensive, and I’ll be honest, this is why it has taken me some time to make the switch. This is when I began to think of it as an investment- an investment in our family’s health and longevity of life. Would I rather be spending this money in medical bills down the line, all the while feeling like crap from the bull that’s in generic meat/dairy/eggs… or spend a little more money now, feel/taste the benefits of the quality foods, and feel amazing. I choose the latter!

Check out my research below on food certification labels!

Certified Labels

CERTIFIED ORGANIC

Organic foods can be anything from produce to meat and dairy to multi-ingredient processed foods.

In order for food to be “certified organic” it goes through a strict organic certification process. According to the USDA,

“…The standards address a variety of factors such as soil quality, animal raising practices, and pest and weed control.  Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.  

Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.  Organic produce must be grown on soil that had no prohibited substances (most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) applied for three years prior to harvest.  As for organic meat, the standards require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors, fed organic feed, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.” 

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Standards Include:

Crop Standards

1. Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop.
2. Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
3. Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
4. Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
5. The use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited.

USDA

Livestock and Poultry Standards

Livestock and poultry standards apply to animals used for meat, milk, eggs, and other animal products sold, labeled, or represented as organic. Some requirements include:

1. Dairy animals and animals for slaughter must be raised under organic management from the last third of gestation, or no later than the second day of life for poultry.
2. Nonorganic dairies have a one-time opportunity to transition nonorganic animals to organic production (over a 12-month period).
3. Producers must feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100 percent organic, but they may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements.
4. Preventive management practices must be used to keep animals healthy. Producers may not withhold treatment from sick or injured animals. However, animals treated with a prohibited substance may not be sold as organic.
5. Ruminants must be out on pasture for the entire grazing season, but for not less than 120 days. These animals must also receive at least 30 percent of their feed, or dry matter intake (DMI), from pasture.
6. All organic livestock and poultry are required to have access to the outdoors year-round. Animals may only be temporarily confined due to documented environmental or health considerations.

USDA

Processed food with multiple ingredients can also be certified organic. The diagram below shows the breakdown of how to read labels in order to verify organic ingredients.

CERTIFIED HUMANELY RAISED

It is important to see a humanely raised certification label on your protein sources. This means the writing on the packaging (Grassfed, Pasture Raised, Heritage) is verified by a third party organization, which has developed strict animal care standards to monitor animal welfare that farms must comply with to receive one of these certification labels. Look for these labels like these on your protein sources!

 “The Humane Farm Animal Care Standards incorporate scientific research, veterinary advice, and the practical experience of farmers. Leading animal scientists, veterinarians, and producers worked with Humane Farm Animal Care to develop the Animal Care Standards for humane farming and continue to work with Humane Farm Animal Care to continually review new information pertaining to improving the lives of farm animals.”

Certified Humane

Summary of Standards Include:

There are extensive standards on their website in pdf format based on type of animal, including: beef cattle, chickens, egg laying hens, dairy cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, turkeys, bison, young dairy beef, and red deer. You can view the pdfs here.

The Certified Humane organization does stand out for the following reasons:

1. Farms must be fully compliant with all Certified Humane standards before being certified. Any corrections must be addressed before certification.
2. All of their third party farm inspectors must be experts in the animal they are inspecting on the farm- either veterinarians or have an advanced degree in animal science.
3. They have a scientific committee comprised of scientists around the world who study the actual behavioral needs of farm animals in order to improve farm animal welfare.
4. Their committee is always available to answer questions from certified farmers regarding the improvement of practices and how to better the lives of their farm animals.
5. They are the only certification organization endorsed by over 70 humane organizations, including the ASPCA and local humane societies across the country.

Certified Humane

American Humane created the first welfare certification program in the United States to help ensure the humane treatment of farm animals. The American Humane Certified™ program provides third-party, independent audits to help verify that certified producers’ care and handling of farm animals meet the science-based animal welfare standards of American Humane. The program provides ongoing outreach to farmers in the implementation of the best humane practices for animals.

American Humane Farm Program

Summary of Standards Include:

There are extensive standards on their website in pdf format based on the category of animal. You can view these here. Furthermore, there are over 200 thorough standards based on species-specific scientific research. Some of the areas of inspection include:

  1. Space
  2. Air & Water Quality
  3. Heating, Lighting, and Shade
  4. Ability to Engage in Natural Behaviors

The standards are meant to reflect current research, technology and handling strategies; reviewed by the Scientific Advisory Committee, which is composed of veterinarians and animal science experts.

“Our multi-step standards are truly unique and are developed specifically for each animal group, taking into account different production systems and geographic climates. By involving input from farmers, ranchers, scientists, veterinarians, certifiers, industry experts, our Scientific Advisory Committee, and food companies, our standards development process represents a comprehensive mix, or both scientific knowledge and practical application.”

Global Animal Partnership

Standards Include:

G.A.P. has over 100 standards for farms to comply with before they are certified. Standards are specific to each animal – you can see them here. Generally, all farms must provide more space, a safe and enriched environment, and a healthy vegetarian diet (no animal by-products). G.A.P. has 6 levels of certifications, see below:

1- BASE CERTIFICATION:
– More space to move around.
– No cages or crates.
– Environment that allows animals to express natural behaviors.

2- ENRICHED ENVIRONMENT:
– Even more space.
– Additional enrichments (straw bales, perches, scratching posts) to promote natural behavior.

3- OUTDOOR ACCESS:
– Option of indoor and outdoor living, with enrichments in both areas.
– Outdoor environment has shade.
-Animals are well-managed in both environments.

4- PASTURE RAISED:
– Raised on a pasture year-round.
– Daily access to outdoor areas.
– Cattle, sheep, goats, and bison are not permitted to be held in feedlots.
– Outdoor environments are sustainably managed.

5- ANIMAL CENTERED:
– Same as above.
– Animals do not receive physical modifications.

6- ENTIRE LIFE ON FARM:
– All of the above standards apply.
– Animals begin and finish their lives on the farm.

“Pasture Raised”

Pasture Raised animals is a quality controlled term referring to animals that have the freedom to graze on a pasture; but, how do we know the animals really have the freedom to go outdoors? Especially because term “Pasture Raised” is not regulated by the USDA and can therefore can be used by any brand for marketing purposes. Luckily, third party organizations have stepped in to regulate. Animal welfare organizations have formed to monitor the humane treatment of farm animals. Each organization has a strict set of standards and monitoring process encompassing the term “Pasture Raised” as well as other standards based on the category of the animal.

Since Pasture Raised animals and eggs, do not have their own certification label– make sure if the product is labeled “Pasture Raised” there is also a “Humanely Raised” certification label to go along with it. It is important to have the third party certification on your meat and eggs to make sure the farms have been visited and are practicing by the Pasture Raised standards.

Let’s talk about eggs– The USDA only regulates cage free and free range chickens. There is so much confusion in this area as to what is the best quality chicken/eggs to purchase. Do we choose cage free, free range, or pasture raised? It all sounds great, until you look at the specifics. Pasture Raised eggs are the highest quality, but as stated before – it must have a reputable “Humanely Raised” certification label on it to be accurate.

The diagram below shows a summary of the different terms and specifics.

CERTIFIED GRASSFED

There are a few different certification programs that are involved in the grass fed labels. They all have their own standards and monitoring procedures.

The USDA seems to have the least credible program in that it is the least regulated. The producers only have to send documentation to the FSIS (Food Safety & Inspection Services) stating their animals are raised on an all grass diet. The USDA then reviews the claim for approval, without ever visiting the farm.

After much research, the next two certification organizations seem to be the most credible and prevalent.

“AGA’s standards apply to ruminant meat animals — beef, bison, goat, lamb and sheep – dairy cattle, and pastured pork. AGA-Certified producers are inspected at least every 15-months by independent, third parties to ensure continuing compliance with the standards.

The American Grass fed Association

Standards Include:

1. 100% Grass Fed– Animals fed only grass or forage their entire life.
2. Raised on Pasture– Animals are raised on a pasture without confinement.
3. No Antibiotics or Hormones– Animals are never treated with growth hormones or antibiotics.
4. Family Farm- Animals are born and raised on an American family farm.

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Certified Grassfed by AGW is the only certification and logo in the U.S. and Canada that guarantees food products come from animals fed a 100 percent grass and forage diet, raised outdoors on pasture or range and managed according to the highest welfare and environmental standards on an independent farm. While other grassfed labels exist, none can match the breadth, integrity and transparency that Certified Grassfed by AGW offers.

A Greener World

Standards Include:

1. Feeding Grassfed Animals– Animals not fed 100% grass or forage, should be clearly marked. 100% grass fed animals are fed only grass and forage for their entire lifetime, with exception of milk prior to weaning.
2. Pasture Raised– Animals have access to pasture at anytime.
3. Source & Records– Animals must be traceable throughout their entire lives. Records should be maintained from birth to purchase/sale.
4. Grassfed Dairy Cow Standards- Animals must be grass fed for one year prior to certification. Forage testing is also needed to certify dairies.
5. Rearing Dairy Calves– Calves have a required milk intake at birth up to 12 weeks of age.
6. Land Management– Certified farms must not clear primary or old growth secondary forests.

WILD CAUGHT & FARMED SEAFOOD

Seafood can either be farmed or wild caught. Although, they are both regulated to be sustainable there is controversy over which is more so. There are pros and cons for both wild and farmed seafood. In terms of consumption I would choose WILD CAUGHT SEAFOOD if it is available to me. I prefer to eat seafood that is in its natural habitat, without restrictions, and is using the food chain as a source of dependency for food they consume. It is more natural and nutrient dense.

Both farmed and wild caught seafood go through the FDA before consumers are able to purchase the product. On a further level, there are also certifications for both farmed and wild caught seafood, so I will mention both here.

The FDA is responsible for regulating the fish that is caught in the United States and imported into the country. Their standards include the seafood is safe, sanitary, wholesome, and honestly labeled. They have partnered with the NOAA for regulation purposes. The FDA considers results reported by the NOAA Seafood Inspection program. The NOAA inspects all edible product including whole fish, formulated products, and what the fish is consuming (fish meal).

NOAA provides the following services to regulate seafood:

– Sanitation inspection.
– System and process audits.
– Product inspection and grading.
– Laboratory analyses.
– Industry training.
– Consultation.
– Export certification.

NOAA Fisheries

It is important to make sure your seafood is certified by a third party organization further than the FDA and NOAA, to ensure the utmost quality. Global Seafoods considers the certification labels seals of approval in which the seafood meets certain standards:

Sustainability: Certified seafood helps protect overfished species and ensures that fishing practices do not harm marine ecosystems.
Quality: Certified seafood is often fresher, healthier, and free from harmful contaminants.
Traceability: Certifications offer transparency in the seafood supply chain, allowing consumers to trace the origin of their seafood.
Support for Responsible Practices: By choosing certified seafood, consumers encourage responsible and sustainable fishing and farming practices.

Global Seafoods

FARMED SEAFOOD

The ASC logo sends a strong message about the environmental and social integrity of the product on which it appears and sets it apart as the best choice for farmed seafood. It empowers buyers to support farmers who share their values and gives them confidence that their purchase has been responsibly sourced, with minimal impact on society and the environment, and is fully traceable back to a well-managed farm.

Aquaculture Stewardship Council

Standards Include:

The ASC standards cover principles and criteria to minimise the key environmental and social impacts in the following area of aquaculture:

1. Legal compliance (obeying the law, the legal right to be there)
2. Preservation of the natural environment and biodiversity
3. Preservation of water resources and water quality
4. Preservation of diversity of species and wild populations (e.g., preventing escapes which could pose a threat to wild fish)
5. Responsible use and sourcing of animal feed and other resources
6. Good animal health and husbandry (no unnecessary use of antibiotics and chemicals)
7. Social responsibility (e.g. no child labour, health and safety of workers, freedom of assembly, community relations)

ASC

WILD SEAFOOD

Wild fish and seafood are important resources, providing protein and livelihoods for millions of people around the world. Stopping fishing is not an option, but we know that the ocean’s resources are finite and under threat. Our job is to help the management of these resources so that they remain available to future generations.”

Marine Stewardship Council

Standards Include:

There are three main principles that fisheries must follow to receive an MSC certification and be deemed sustainable. Fisheries are scored according to the following:

Principle 1 Sustainability of the stock: fisheries must operate in a way that allows fishing to continue indefinitely, without overexploiting the resource.

Principle 2 Ecosystem impacts: Fishing operations need to be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem upon which the fishery depends, including other species and habitats.

Principle 3 Effective management: All fisheries need to meet all local, national and international laws and have an effective management system in place.

MSC

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