Category Archives: Definitions

Local food related definitions

Food Labels: Fair Trade

Food Label Tag GreenFair Trade has been around for a while now, especially in connection with coffee and chocolate. The fair-trade logo is the same for both Canada and the US.

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“The certified fair-trade logo ensures that any coffee, chocolate, sugar, or whatnot you get from the developing world is made under strong labour standards. The logo often implies that ecologically sensitive practices are encouraged, but it does not guarantee it. Your best bet is certified organic and fair trade, but these are two expensive logos and not every farm can afford them, which means that not everyone thinks it’s so fair. Still, it’s the only way to know for sure that what you’re buying hasn’t been made in the equivalent of a sweatshop.”

Excerpt from Wikipediafooterlogo

“The currently accepted definition of Fair Trade has been agreed by FINE, an informal association of four international fair trade networks (Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, World Fair Trade Organization, Network of European Worldshops and European Fair Trade Association):

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair Trade Organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.

Food Labels: Pesticide-Free

Food Label Tag GreenToday, we’re checking out “pesticide-free”. Who doesn’t want to be pesticide-free?

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“Sure, it might mean your broccoli hasn’t been sprayed with chemincals, which is good, but this label doesn’t cover all the other good stuff that comes with organic. The CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] doesn’t really approve of the term because, given all the contaminants in the environment, cananything ever be pesticide-free? If they spot-test a food items and find out it’s not free of pesticides, the farmer can be charged with fraud.”

And now with a US twist from

[Pesticide-Free refers to] food that was grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. This doesn’t mean that the food is completely free of pesticides: organic pesticides could have been used, or synthetic pesticide residue from neighboring farms could have blown onto crops. Use of this term is not regulated by any national standards.”

Food Labels: USDA Organic

Food Label Tag GreenThe US has the National Organic Program as its certification and labeling system. Items certified through this system carry the “USDA Organic” label.

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“This stamp reflects the fact that the US (namely th130px-usda_organic_sealsvge Department of Agriculture) finally implemented a national organic system in 2002. Trouble is, it created a ceiling, not a floor, and certifiers that might have been more stringent were forced to ‘harmonize’ or drop their standards to get in line with the national program. Some say the USDA system is weaker than the European system and, in some cases, the Canadian system in that it allows substances such as Chilean nitrites on organic crops (making California lettuce much prettier than ours), and farms can have pesticide-sprayed crops on one side and organics on the other. But Canada also allows a couple of substances that the US doesn’t. Several attempts to significantly water down USDA regs have been bucked.”

From the USDA website

“The National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.”

Also see:
Biologique Canada Organic
100% Certified Organic

Food Labels: 100% Certified Organic

Food Label Tag GreenWhat? Certified Organic doesn’t mean 100% Certified Organic? Sorry, but according to Wikipedia, products made with up to 95% organic ingredients can still carry the USDA Organic label.

What Ecoholic has to say:

“You might pay a little more for it, but this is the purest stuff you can find under any certification system. No synthetic inputs can be snuck in, no matter who the certifier.” agrees:

All ingredients – the produce itself and anything used in processing – were grown and harvested according to USDA organic standards. The name of the certifying agency must appear on the package.”

Also see:
USDA Organic
Biologique Canada Organic

Food Labels: Biologique Canada Organic

Food Label Tag GreenCanada’s new system of certifying and identifying organic products comes into effect June 30, 2009. According to the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s website, “When the Organic Products Regulations come into full force on June 30, 2009, voluntary use of the “Biologique Canada Organic” designation and logo will be permitted on the labelling of those food products certified as meeting the National Organic Standards (Canadian Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards CAN/CGSB 32.310 and Permitted Substances Lists CAN/CGSB 32.311).”

After June 30, 2009, consumers should see this logo (above) on various organic products. Obviously, this new system will take a while to be on all packaging, so we’ve included an excerpt from Ecoholic on what the Canadian system looks like now.canada-organic-logo-09

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“There are dozens of certifiers in Canada, so until the fed’s new Canada Organic regulation and label are fully phased in you might find a confusing number of logos on grocery shelves certifying to slightly different standards. (Quebec and BC are the only provinces that already had their own mandatory systems in place.)”

“In general, to qualify for organic certification, farms have to be pesticide-free for three years and must avoid synthetic inputs such as pesticides and antibiotics, as well as the deliberate use of GMO’s [Genetically Modified Organisms], while stressing soil-building. Certifiers also tend to have basic stipulations about animal welfare (no caged chickens or rabbits, for instance), although European programs are better than those in Canada and the US on this front.”

See also:
USDA Organic
100% Certified Organic

Food Labels: Organic

Food Label Tag GreenYes, this is a term we consumers often “take to the bank”, but does it mean what we think? No, sadly. Read on…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“It may be organic, and then again it may not — if it’s not certified, it’s impossible to know, since use of the term hasn’t historically been regulated. Some small farmers rebel against all the pricey red table of certification and say their standards are higher anyway. This is a n easier sell to trusted customers at, say, local farmers’ markets. But again, it’s strictly a trust system. Some studies in teh US have shown that nearly half the eggs labelled organic without being certified are not organic at all. Unless a product is certified, it’s hard to know.”

According to the

“[Organic is] a way of growing and processing food, including produce, that doesn’t involve the use of artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation. Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients, according to USDA regulations. The name of the certifying agency must appear on the package. Loose or bunched produce items may be identified as organic in the grocery store by a PLU code that begins with a 9.”

See also:
USDA Organic
Biologique Organic Canada
100% Certified Organic

Food Labels: GE-Free or GMO-Free

Food Label Tag GreenI wonder sometimes if the whole GMO issue is purposely convoluted to confuse people.

First, let’s start with what “GE” and “GMO” stand for: Genetically Engineered and Genetically Modified Organism, respectively. Clear as crystal? Read on…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“The feds [Canadian] voted down a law that would have made genetic engineering (GE) labelling mandatory. The CFIA [Canadian Food Inspection Agency] says meat with this label has to be approved by them.”

Excerpts from Wikipedia

“A genetically modified organism (GMO) or genetically engineered organism (GEO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.”


“To date the broadest application of GMO technology is patent-protected food crops which are resistant to commercial herbicides or are able to produce pesticidal proteins from within the plant, or stacked trait seeds, which do both. The largest share of the GMO crops planted globally are owned by Monsanto according to the company. In 2007, Monsanto’s trait technologies were planted on 246 million acres (1,000,000 km2) throughout the world, a growth of 13 percent from 2006.”


“According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), of the approximately 8.5 million farmers who grew biotech crops in 2005, some 90% were resource-poor farmers in developing countries. These include some 6.4 million farmers in the cotton-growing areas of China, an estimated 1 million small farmers in India, subsistence farmers in the Makhathini flats in KwaZulu Natal province in South Africa, more than 50,000 in the Philippines and in seven other developing countries where biotech crops were planted in 2005.”


“The use of GMOs has sparked significant controversy in many areas. Some groups or individuals see the generation and use of GMO as intolerable meddling with biological states or processes that have naturally evolved over long periods of time, while others are concerned about the limitations of modern science to fully comprehend all of the potential negative ramifications of genetic manipulation.

The safety of GMOs in the foodchain has been questioned, with concerns such as the possibilities that GMOs could introduce new allergens into foods, or contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance. Although scientists have assured consumers of the safety of these types of crops, consumption has been discouraged in many countries by food and environmental activist groups who protest GM crops, claiming they are unnatural and therefore unsafe. This has led to the adoption of laws and regulations that require safety testing of any new organism produced for human consumption.”

Food Labels: Natural

Food Label Tag Green

We’ve all seen the label: “All Natural” or “From Mother Nature”. But does it actually mean anything? Well, that depends which country you’re in.

Thankfully, Canada does regulate this and several associated terms, but the US does not. Policing the term in Canada, however, relies heavily on savvy consumers who must send in complaints to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency when a violation is suspected. Read on…

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“It’s hard to believe, considering all the abuse this term has taken, but this label is actually regulated [in Canada]. Who knew? According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), references to ‘nature,’ ‘Mother Nature,’ ‘nature’s way,’ or ‘natural’ in relation to a food product cannot be used if any process has significantly altered any earth-given ingredient. That means the addition of even non-synthetic ingredients such as guar gum, hydrogenated oils, vitamins, or treated spring water is a no-no. So how is it that everywhere you look someone’s using and abusing the word nature? Bottom line: it’s not policed unless you send in a complaint. Go to town, folks.”

Excerpt from Institute of Food Technologists

“The term ‘natural’ adds a premium to food products and makes them appear fresher, minimally processed, and safer. But consumers and the food industry will have to wait to know exactly what natural does – or does not – mean.”

“Despite the term’s widespread use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discourages the food industry from using ‘natural’ on labels because of its ambiguity.  ‘Natural may unjustifiably imply that a food is of superior quality or safety compared to other similar foods,’ said the FDA’s Ritu Nalubola.

Neither FDA nor the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has precise rules for ‘natural.’ And the food-and-beverage product industry, represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has no consensus.

In 1991, FDA tried to define the term and, by 1993, gave up. The agency decided to ‘not restrict the use of “natural” on products. It is a very complex term,’ Nalubola said. Today FDA is continuing that practice, originated in 1988. For a product to be called natural, it must be free of artificial or synthetic ingredients or additives, including color, flavor or any ingredient “not normally expected.’ Hence, lemonade flavored with beet juice cannot be called natural. In addition, any food enhanced with caramel, paprika or color (consider bright orange cheese) cannot be called natural.”

Food Labels: Heirloom or Heritage

Food Label Tag GreenThere’s lots of talk about the higher nutritional quality of heirloom or heritage produce, which hasn’t been genetically modified and is often naturally adapted to a particular growing region. In recent years, many heirloom or heritage products have become more readily available.

<b>Heirloom Tomatoes, GBE Organic</b>

Heirloom Tomatoes, GBE Organic

One of the most common heirloom produce I’ve encountered is tomatoes. ‘Tis the season to check out your local organic and a farmers markets and see the fabulous variety of colours, textures, shapes, and sizes on hand.

Excerpt from Ecoholic

“Did you know that three-quarters of the world’s edible crops have disappeared over the last century? Yep, that’s according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which also says we used to eat about 10,000 different species of food plants and now 90% of the world’s diet is down to 120. It seems the food biz didn’t like all that variety and whittled it down to a few hardy, easily harvested types with a uniform appearance that could be patented and sold. Heirloom or heritage fruits, vegetables, herbs, and even turkeys are those that have been revived from our history. These strains have been around for at least 50 years, and their seeds are pollinated by nature, not man. The term is not regulated.”

Excerpt from

“Traditionally, farmers throughout the world have raised thousands of different animal breeds and plant varieties. However, since today’s industrial farms rely upon only a few specialized types of livestock and crops, thousands of non-commercial animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared, along with the valuable genetic diversity they possessed. Fortunately, a growing number of sustainable farmers are preserving agricultural variety and protecting biodiversity by raising “heritage” or “heirloom” animal breeds and crops.”

“Heritage vs. Heirloom: They both mean the same thing, though “heritage” is usually used to describe animals, while “heirloom” refers generally to kinds of plants. These terms describe varieties of animals and crops that have unique genetic traits, were grown or raised many years ago, and are typically produced in a sustainable manner.”