Natural Come on, does anyone believe this one any more? Well, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) still insists the term is regulated, and any reference to "nature," "Mother Nature," "nature's way" or "natural" is wrong if any earthly ingredient has been altered, even with non-synthetic ingredients. Ha! As you can guess, the term isn't exactly policed, but you can call the CFIA with complaints.
Organic If you're the gambling type you can take your chances on this one. If you trust your fave farmers' market vendor when he tells you that getting certified is just too costly and bureaucratic, then buy away. But what if your bullshit detector fails? Unless it's certified, it's hard to know for sure.
Certified (or Verified) Organic This means that any one of dozens and dozens of certifying bodies guarantees that an ingredient or an entire product is indeed organic, meaning, among other things, it's pesticide-, GMO-, drug- and chem-free. That means slightly different things depending on who certifies it and where you live. The U.S. system is said to be weaker than the European system when it comes to animal welfare and labour rights issues. Canada's is in process but should fall somewhere in the middle.
USDA Organic If this stamp could speak, it would tell you about all the attempts made on its life, or at the very least its integrity. The label does tell you the product is upwards of 95 per cent certified organic. (The other 5 per cent can be non-organic. A small amount of synthetic inputs are allowed by most certifiers.) Attempts to water down the label are ongoing. (See article, page 33). All U.S.-based certifiers had to harmonize with the USDA a few years ago, so anything made in the USA follows this standard.
100 per cent Certified Organic You might pay a little more for it, but this is the purest stuff this side of Colombia. No synthetic inputs can be snuck in.
Made with Organic Ingredients This is a term developed in the United States available to products with anywhere from 70 to 94 per cent organic content. Such products aren't allowed to use the USDA organic seal.
Biodynamic Many say this farming system is more true to the origins of organics than organic-labelled goods. It's a little out there (think crystal tinctures, planting in strict rhythm with the planets and away from electromagnetic fields), but that should keep Kraft and other big corps from infiltrating. Demeter is a major certifier.
Fair Trade Ease your nagging concerns about supporting sweatshop practices by looking for the certified fair trade logo. The designation can imply that green practices were used, but to be sure, look for "certified organic" and "fair trade." Many poor developing-world farmers find it impossible to afford certification.
GE-Free (or GMO-free) Too bad the feds didn't support mandatory labelling of genetically engineered foods. CFIA says meat with this label has to be approved by them.
MEAT AND EGGS
Free range Indicates the chickens had access to the outdoors, but how much access? The U.S. regulates the use of the term on chickens but not on eggs, and doesn't stipulate how much outdoor time is required. Canada regulates neither.
Free run (or cage-free) No one polices this one, but the birds are supposed to be allowed to run around open-concept barns with wire grid floors. No sunshine for these guys.
Omega 3 Yeah, yeah, flax-fed chickies lay eggs that are better for your heart, but don't think this label means the birds were able to make a prison break, eat organic feed or be antiobiotic-free.
Grass-fed We like grass-fed cows much better than cow-fed cows. The animals are supposed to be healthier, but again, there ain't no federal standards, so who's monitoring this one?
Naturally raised The Big Carrot says any meat with this label in their store is raised without drugs, and though the feed isn't organic, it's GMO and animal-by-product-free. If you see the label anywhere else, CFIA says it should tell you it's pharma-free.
Antibiotic or Hormone Free Some major chains charge five times more for hormone-free chicken legs, but the feds say no chickens can be fed hormones in this country! For some reason, pigs and cows can, but the CFIA says all animals have to test clean for drugs before they can be slaughtered anyway, so the label is pointless. Regardless, if a product is registered with the feds, the label is pre-approved for accuracy. If it's provincially registered, it's open to spot or complaint-driven inspections, so call the CFIA or OMAF and complain.
Grain Fed It's nice to know that your meat of choice wasn't feeding off its dead brothers, but chickadee could have been fed antibiotics or other things. The feds think "animal-by-product-free" would be a more accurate label. Policing same as above.
Pesticide-free Sure, your Brussels sprouts might be free of chemical herbicides and fungicides, but that doesn't mean they're organic. Plus background pollutants mean nothing can be entirely pesticide-free. The CFIA says farmers can be charged with fraud if the agency happens to spot test and discover that a product so labelled is not pesticide-free.
Wild Born free. But it could still be destructively overharvested like Atlantic cod (remember the ban of the 90s?) and sole, imported shrimp and Chilean sea bass. Records supporting "wild" claim must be available to CFIA inspectors during audits.
Farmed Remember the devastation of the tsunami? If mangrove forests hadn't been razed for shrimp farms, maybe the wave wouldn't have been so destructive. Even here, many farmed fish are pumped full of antibiotics to keep overcrowded salmon and the like disease-free, then injected with pink pigment. Yum. CFIA rebuts, insisting that fish must test clean for drug residues before sold to public.
Organic Farmed fish free of antibiotics, likely fed organic feed and given a little more swim room. Only two nations in the world, Scotland and Ireland, certify organic fish. Non-certified organic farms do exist in the U.S. and BC, but no one's monitoring them for truthfulness. Some argue that there can be no such thing as "organic" fish when you can't control what's in the water.
Sustainable A coalition of USDA officials, farmers and environmentalists are promoting this label as the perfect option for those who can't afford organics but who want their farmers tuned in to wildlife protection and water quality issues. Crops can still be sprayed, but in reduced quantities, and come with labels like "Healthy Grown" and "Protected Harvest."
Super duper wowganic The Organic Consumers Association says attempts to water down organic standards south of the border just might reach a point where truly organic farmers have to make up a new term for the good food they grow. No label has yet been devised, but we were thinking maybe "Free of corporate tampering" or simply "Orgasmaganic."