Monday, February 18, 2013

Never Judge a Food by its Label

The seemingly simple image to the right is much more loaded with information and value than meets the eye.  When you step into a grocery store and pick out your food, the label often holds great power in your purchasing decisions.  But just like a book, you can't always judge a food by its label. 
This label is only used on products certified by the Vermont Organic Farmers (VOF), which is a branch of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT).  The message that this label holds is sometimes underestimated by consumers, and the criteria behind it sometimes takes research that can often be unappealing to a buyer. 
While speaking with a NOFA-VT staff member at their annual Winter Conference: Generations of Innovation this weekend, I was able to get a sense of the importance of this message, and the effort behind it.

There are two motivating factors addressed in the creation of this label: as a source of information for consumers, and as a marketing tool for farmers.  Both factors are meant to be mutually beneficial for those supporting the organic movement.  It seems quite impossible to serve both purposes evenly, but I think this labeling is quite holistic in its approach.  For instance, it is important for consumers to know what is going into their food product, and to trust the information on the label is not manipulative against their liking.  On the other end of the spectrum comes the organic practicing farmers who deserve to earn benefits for their trustworthy practices.  The labeling process is a way for the farmer to communicate with their customers that they are growing food with the best practices possible.

Unlike the Whole Trade Guarantee from my previous post which was created by a profit driven company, Vermont Organic Certification is created by VOF and NOFA-VT non-profit organizations.  As an independent third-party certifying agency, I feel there is less of a bias in their practices.  As stated on the NOFA-VT website:
VOF’s purpose is to provide a highly credible program for independent third-party verification of organic food production, and to assist Vermont farmers and processors of all types to achieve the highest possible organic standards.
Though, for this labeling system to work, consumers must understand their benefits to purchasing Vermont Organic Certified products.  One benefit that can be appealing to customers of organic products is that they are required to be GMO (Genetically Modified Organism)-free.  With the recent buzz about the denied GMO food labeling law in California, non-GMO labeling is becoming a hotter topic.  Since there has yet to be a mandated labeling system for GMO products in the U.S., purchasing organic certified products ensures no GMO's were used in the process.  If you are interested in some of the other benefits of Organic Certification, I recommend you check out the standards and guidelines required for Organic Certification. 

NP 2/19

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