When it comes to product labels, there can be a lot of noise. In 2016, The Ecolabel Index found that there were 148 public and private sustainability standards and quality assurance schemes at EU and national level… and that was only for food and drink!
Looking out for certified products generally gives you a level of confidence that set standards have to be met and audited. This way you can avoid marketing tools such as 'all natural' which is often meaningless.
Understandably, it can be confusing to know what’s what. According to a survey by Which?, 91% of us recognise the Fair-trade logo (nice one!), however recognition of other assurance schemes such as Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the LEAF Marque was low (26% and 8% respectively).
There are some logos you should really get familiar with if you want to make more sustainable food choices (and who doesn’t?). We’ve put together a brief list of a few common logos and what they mean, so you can make informed choices next time you pop down to the shops. This way you can 'vote with your fork' and support brands and companies that make the better choices for the planet, animal welfare and the workers.
LEAF Marque is an environmental assurance system recognising more sustainably farmed products. If you see this logo on your food, it means it’s come from a farm that uses the sustainable farming principles of Integrated Farm Management, and this covers 9 key areas including soil and water management, pollution control, animal welfare and nature conservation. 43% of UK grown fruit and veg (and 100% of UK leeks!) carry the LEAF Marque so it should be an easy one to support.
Soil association is a great logo to look out for if you want more from your organic food. The Soil Association developed the world's first organic standards in the 1960s. Products that carry this logo must not only meet European laws about the production of organic food, but also meet high standards in animal welfare, protecting human health, and safeguarding the environment.
Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)
Only wild fish, or seafood from fisheries that have been certified to the MSC Fisheries standard can carry this label, which is a set of requirements for sustainable fishing. It also guarantees that all wild fish are caught using methods that do not deplete stocks or have knock-on effects to other species.
The goal of this certification is to establish fair, safe and sustainable labour practices for all agricultural workers. This includes eliminating forced and child labour, promoting gender quality and ensuring fair wages - only then can true sustainability exist. There are a few different fairtrade logos to look our for, but the Fairtrade Foundation is the oldest and most well known - it can be found on over 30,000 products.
This standard shares very similar goals to the Fairtrade Foundation, both being members of ISEAL - the global association for social and environmental standards. The Rainforest Alliance helps farmers use sustainable practices, adapt to the climate crisis and tackle deforestation.
To put it simply, food and drink that carries this logo must have been produced, packed, stored and transported in the UK. There is more to it than that, but if you are concerned about your food miles, looking out for the red tractor is a great way to tackle this, and it also gives much needed support to British farmers.
Bear in mind...
All of the schemes we've mentioned can be found on various food products (and we love sustainable food!) but don't forget to consider the materials used in other things you buy too! Here are a couple of example of labels to look out for on things such as clothes and paper.
Cotton has huge environmental impacts but is much less publicised. Products with this logo are supporting the Better Cotton Initiative which sources cotton from farms that use sustainable cotton practices. It doesn’t mean all the cotton used is sustainable, as only a percentage of Better Cotton needs to be included to become a member, however it is a supporting step towards sustainability. Try and buy organic cotton where possible.
You’ll see this ‘tick tree’ logo on products made from wood and paper, and it means you can be confident that buying these products won’t mean harming the world’s forests. FSC certifies forests all over the world to ensure they meet the highest environmental and social standards.
This is a tricky one. The RSPO certification claims it's an assurance to the customer that the palm oil production is sustainable, however there is a lot of criticism around this as RSPO do not enforce the rule that their growers cannot destroy rainforests to grow palm oil. Read more about it here.
While looking for sustainable palm oil has good intentions, it might be best to try and choose alternatives that avoid it altogether (especially as it will have been shipped in from the other side of the world, no matter how it’s grown).
A bit overwhelmed?
You might want to consider using the Giki Badges app. It allows you to scan barcodes in the supermarket and shows you how sustainable the products are. It will show you how many of their 15 badges the item meets (covering important things like sustainability, fairness and health) and will even show you better alternatives if there are any. It takes the leg work out of choosing what’s best for the planet.
(Please remember that all of these certifications have their limitations, and perhaps the best thing you can do is to buy local produce from retailers you know and trust).
It might seem like a lot, but even just starting with a few logos to look out for is a great way to make more sustainable food choices. These are just a few of the available assurance schemes out there, so if you see a label you don't recognise - look it up! A few seconds of effort with leave you better equipped to 'vote with your fork'.
Square Mile Farms bring vertical, urban farming to city dwellers in their homes and in the workplace. We aim to bring people closer to food production and help to create a culture of healthy, sustainable living.