A comprehensive list and analysis of food labels can be found at the Eco-Labels website, operated by the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
Fresh, Natural, Hormone Free, No Additives, No Chemicals Added
These labels are not independently verified by third party inspectors or the government. They are claims made by the product's manufacture and should be viewed with caution.
The USDA now regulates the use of the label "organic". In order to use the USDA National Organic Program certification label, a food producer must have a third-party certifier determine that all USDA organic guidelines have been met.
Oregon Tilth is an Oregon-based organization that offers third-party organic certification.
A list of national and international certifying agencies can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/NOP/indexNet.htm
Fair Trade Certified
The Fair Trade label signifies the producer has received a fair price and works under fair labor conditions, the product has been produced with environmentally sustainable farming methods (benefiting the health of the farmers and maintaining ecosystems), trade is direct between producer and purchaser (costly middlemen are removed and farmers gain business skills), and farmers and workers invest in social and business development projects within their community. Common fair trade certified products include coffee, tea, cocoa, fruit, vanilla and sugar.
Irradiation is a method of processing food aimed at killing potentially harmful bacteria such as E. coli. During irradiation, foods are exposed briefly to a radiant energy source such as gamma rays or electron beams within a shielded facility. All foods treated with irradiation are required by federal law to be labeled with the "Radura Symbol".
Concerns about the effects of irradiation include altered taste and texture of foods, reduced nutritional value, chemical changes within the foods, and unknown long-term health consequences. Opponents of irradiation suggest that a better way of addressing food contamination would be to improve unsanitary conditions at feedlots, slaughterhouses, processors, cafeterias, and other places where food is prepared.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
A Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) is a plant or animal that has been genetically engineered (GE). Many industries support the development and use of GMOs while many consumers and organizations question their safety and have called for further testing of GMO products. Many countries have regulated or banned the use of GE crops and require GE foods be labeled as such. Within the United States, certain states and counties have also regulated or banned the introduction and production of GE produce, grains, fish and other foods.