Alternative Markets : Food Labels
Like conventional markets, alternative markets provide a variety of food, grown in many ways. Some popular labels are applied to foods to classify what practices were used in their production. This helps consumers get a better idea of where their food comes from and how it might affect the environment or social causes they are interested in. The practices represented by labels like these can do a lot for the sustainability of the food system. A good way to make sustainable food choices is to be familiar with what these labels actually mean.
To be certified as organic, food must be grown following natural organic practices that encourage biodiversity and recycling resources. Organic production is more enviromentally friendly than conventional production. Organic crops are produced without bioengineering or genetic modification, synthetic pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. They are certified under the National Organic Program and the USDA.
Organic foods have grown in popularity and are now found and produced by large corporate farms as well as small farms. Certified organic produce and other agricultural products are easy to find via alternative markets as well as mainstream outlets.
The chemical-free label restricts the amount of chemical inputs used in food production but is not fully organic. Generally, farmers do not use synthetic herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides, though they may use synthetic ferilizers or genetically-modified seeds.
The chemical-free label is generally self-regulated, with growers applying it to their products based on their own practices, rather than being certified by a third party agency.
Discontinuing the use of chemicals in food production generally reduces the environmental impact on the land and can improve worker health by not exposing them to chemical hazards.
Conventional methods of growing food must fall under government guidelines for use of chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and other inputs. These regulations protect the health quality of the food and are much less rigid than the standards for other labels, such as organic food. Conventional growing methods may include the use of genetically-modified organisms, weed killers, and limited crop rotation, as well as minimal labor laws. These standards generally allow for farms to concentrate production and maximize outputs. The majority of conventionally-grown food is marketed through major corporations.
Fair trade labels are regulated by international organizations to ensure that the methods of food production follow certain social standards for the fair treatment of the growers and workers. There are several groups who make certifications like this, the most popular being Fairtrade International.
Labels like this seek to ensure that workers receive fair wages and benefits for their labor, and are allowed to work in a safe and equitable working environment. They may also prohibit child labor. The overall goal of labels like this is to promote and ensure that agriculture is socially sustainable as well as environmentally and economically sustainable .
It is unlikely that food obtained through alternative markets will bear this label, but consumers and growers can still be aware of the fair labor practices at work.
Local foods are grown and distributed within the same general region so as to keep food in its original ecological system and minimize the transportation resources needed. It is generally regarded to be an environmentally conservative practice for these reasons. The label 'local', however, is not consistently defined; some markets set mileage defnitions for what can be called local, others define local food as coming from the same state where it's sold, even if the food has out-of-state inputs or is from a very distant part of the state. Transportation methods for local foods are not always more efficient than larger transportation systems, but local food has other benefits as well: it can support the local economy and comes from a nearby, familiar source.
Packaging can also have an effect on the environment. Certain materials such as BPA plastics, polystyrene foam, waxes, or foils can have different effects on the environment or on food. To reduce the waste of resources, look for food options that require less packaging.
Once packaging has been used, much of it can be recycled. Become familiar with the recycling facilities available and know how to properly recycle containers such as plastics and cans. In much of Cache Valley, curbside recycling is avaiable for materials such as cardboard, paperboard, mixed paper (including newspaper, magazines, and catalogs), aluminum, tin, and steel cans, all plastics (numbers 1 through 7), rinsed-out food containers and cell phones in a plastic bag.
Other materials, such as glass, batteries, scrap metal, plastic bags, and green waste can be recycled separately at specific drop-off locations.
Learn more about proper recycling in Cache Valley by visiting www.loganutah.org
1. Fair Trade USA. (2016). Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://fairtradeusa.org/certification/standards