Did you know that? What packaging symbols really mean
Consumers world-wide are increasingly on the lookout for consumer goods that have been produced sustainably, socially and ethically and contain harmless ingredients. This particularly applies to foods and cosmetics.
In general, manufacturers can use symbols to identify nutritional values, particular dietary restrictions and allergens in foods in addition to ingredients. For cosmetic products, the same applies to ingredients, possible allergens as well as information on animal testing and ethical production.
We have put together the following selection of labels that are most frequently used in the USA and are most prevalent on the market.
Photo: NON-GMO Project
The independent test institute NON-GMO Project is a non-profit organisation that specialises in analysing genetically modified organisms - hence the name GMO. This verification is awarded to companies that exclusively use natural ingredients in their goods and do not manipulate live materials in laboratories to create something artificial, whether during production or at their production sites. The organisation, which is active in the USA and Canada, aims to completely prevent genetic modification of food in the long run.
Critics point out the lack of sound research with regard to the hazards of genetically manipulated products. And manufacturers such as food and feed company Cargill have already admitted that they only purchased the label for marketing purposes.
Photo: GFCO, Gluten.org
The global demand for gluten-free foods is increasing. Whilst some consumers are intolerant or allergic to this protein found in wheat, others simply want to do without. In the USA, three organisations award the corresponding certification, however, they have different requirements regarding the standards that must be met. The Gluten Free Certification Organization (GFCO) guarantees that products and ingredients contain less than 10ppm of gluten.
Photo: German Coeliac Society
Within the EU gluten free products must contain less than 20ppm of gluten. It is viewed as sufficient for the large part of all persons suffering from coeliac disease. In Germany, the German Coeliac Society (DZG) awards a symbol showing an ear of wheat that has been crossed out.
Certified Vegan logo
The Certified Vegan logo is a registered trademark. It confirms that the certified product is 100% vegan, i.e. is completely free of any and all animal substances and by-products and has not been tested on animals. Currently, thousands of products by a total of more than 900 companies carry this label.
Fair Trade Federation
Photo: Fair Trade Federation
One of the numerous members of the global Fair Trade Federation and the leading non-profit third party organisation in the USA awards this certification to products that are manufactured in a way that is socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. This means safe working conditions and fair pay for the farmers and employees along the production chain, which in turn strengthens communities. Among others, the symbol certifies foods such as honey, coffee, tea, chocolate, nuts and grain.
Rainforest Alliance Certified seal
Photo: Rainforest Alliance
The international non-profit environmental organisation Rainforest Alliance have their headquarters in the USA and award their Rainforest Alliance Certified seal showing the green frog based on Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standards. Among others, the symbol can be found on bananas, chocolate, palm oil and beef as well as on cocoa, coffee, tea and fruit juices. The seal stands for sustainable production that impacts the environment as little as possible. The organisation aims to achieve biological diversity and secure natural resources around the globe while considering ecological, social and economical aspects of agriculture as well as responsible corporate actions and value-oriented consumer behaviour.
Whole Grain Council label
Photo: Whole Grain Council
The Whole Grain Council label does look like a stamp: The Whole Grain Stamp, a stylised ear of corn against a golden background, is awarded to products that contain whole grains. Currently, there are three variants on the market.
The 100% stamp guarantees that all grain components are whole grain products. They must comply with the minimum requirement of 16 grams, i.e. a full portion of whole grains per identified portion.
A 50%+ stamp means that at least half of the food’s total grain ingredients are whole grain. Accordingly, a minimum amount of 8 g, half a portion of whole grains per portion, is required to receive the stamp.
If a product has been awarded the basic stamp, it contains at least 8 g of whole grain, however, the product might also contain refined grain.
to what constitutes ethical treatment. They have therefore been accused of awarding the label to businesses that objectively do not farm sustainably – for a fee.