Food Certifications: The Meaning of Words Like Kosher, Organic, GMP, Halal, and More

Do you read food labels before you buy and are there certain certifications for food that you look for? Or are all the certification claims and food label verbiage pretty much Greek to you? We’ve done some looking into the various certifications and claims you will often find on food labels and here’s what we found to share with you. Some of the actual definitions may surprise you.

GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulations for facilities that process food, drugs and dietary supplements. These are designed to protect consumers from the risk of contaminated products and let them know that products with a GMP certification are of high quality. The entire manufacturing process starting with raw material all the way through the steps leading to a finished product are regulated. This includes testing of equipment, worker training, and how the facility is maintained. Dietary supplements fall under guidelines developed by the NSF (National Sanitation Foundation). This program protects consumers by testing for harmful levels of contaminants and certifying that supplements contain the ingredients listed on the label and nothing else. Dietary supplements that have the GMP certification assure the consumer that every ingredient is thoroughly tested for possible pollutants or contaminants and verified 100% pure. Supplements that are specifically intended to be used by athletes have additional guidelines to be adhered to in order to be NSF Certified for Sport. For sports supplements, over 165 substances that have been banned by sports organizations are included in the testing. This includes stimulants, steroids and narcotics to name a few.

According to the USDA, natural products are those that don’t have artificial ingredients, added color and a minimum of processing. The food label should have a statement explaining how the product is claiming to be natural. This term applied to meat just signifies that it is fresh meat, but does not apply to the conditions under which animals are raised or whether antibiotics or hormones have been used.

Organic is a certification with standards created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. A third party must insure that the USDA criteria is being met. If a product has this certification, the consumer knows that the food has not been preserved through irradiation, no synthetic or chemical fertilizers were used and it has not been genetically modified. Meat and poultry with this certification comes from animals raised without the use of hormones or antibiotics and have only been given feed that is grown organically. These animals have also been raised having outdoor access and/or pasture room.

Cage Free
Cage free is often seen on poultry and egg packaging, but this does not necessarily mean the product has been certified. As the name implies, it does mean hens have not been raised in cages and usually that they have been allowed space to engage in behaviors natural to their species, ie. – pecking and scratching at the ground. You may think because of this that cage free means that they have outdoor access, but that is not always true. If this is important to you, then look for cage free eggs that are actually certified with an American Humane Certified food label.

Free Range
Free Range refers to how poultry have been raised according to USDA guidelines. A food label listing free range means the animal was raised with access to the outdoors. What that actually means can vary however as it is not specified how long they have outdoor access, the quality of the outdoor conditions or the size of the outdoor space.

IFANCA (Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America) gives this certification to products that have been found to be in accordance with the dietary laws observed by Muslims according to the Quran. For a product to receive this certification, it must also pass inspection of its facilities and procedures. In the case of meat products, the animal must be slaughtered in a specific way, but it is not specified how the animal was raised and if antibiotics were used or not.

Kosher Certified
A Kosher certification is given to a product that has been found to be in accordance with the dietary laws observed by the Jewish faith according to the Torah. The product must pass inspections of its processing facilities and procedures for standards of cleanliness. This certification for meat assures that a shochet used a specifically defined manner in the slaughter of the animal. This food label does not assure that hormones, antibiotics or organic feed was used in raising the animal.

Certified Humane, American Humane Certified and Animal Welfare Approved
Humane Farm Animal Care is a non-profit that developed the Certified Humane food label with the endorsement of humane organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Meat products with this certification assure that the animals have never been raised in cages or crates, have not had growth hormones administered, have only been given antibiotics if prescribed by a vet for illness, and that they were slaughtered according to specific guidelines ensuring minimal suffering. This label however does not mean that animals were given pasture or range access. If that is important to you, then you’ll want to look for the Animal Welfare Approved certification provided by the Animal Welfare Institute which is a non-profit certifying family farms. This certification shows that animals were raised outside in pastures or range, the animals were allowed to engage in natural behaviors for their species, antibiotics were only given as directed by a vet for illness, no growth hormones were used and before being slaughtered the animal was treated to no longer feel pain. In the case of meat products there is also an American Humane Certification that is older than these other two. The American Humane Association created the standards for this certification which requires a third party to audit the company. It does allow animals to be contained in cages if the size allows for natural instinctive behaviors for that species and allows de-beaking in some instances for poultry. It does not allow for animals to be raised using growth hormones and use of antibiotics can only be used according to guidelines put out by the FDA.

Grass Fed
There are several food labels that certify a meat product as grass-fed. These include certifications from the USDA, the Food Alliance and the American Grassfed Association. Grass fed means the animals were raised on a diet of natural grass and forage instead of grain. The USDA certification does not assure that the animals were always kept in pasture, just that they have access to pasture during growing seasons. Some animals with this certification are confined part of the time. The certification from the American Grassfed Association and the Food Alliance are only given when animals have never been raised in confinement and have never been treated with hormones or antibiotics.

As you can see there is a lot to consider when looking at the food label certifications of the products you buy. This applies to dietary wholefood supplements too like our AFA bluegreen algae products. We are pleased to note that these algae products start with the finest grade of raw ingredients such as certified organic wild-harvested bluegreen algae, mushrooms organically grown from wild spores, plant based enzymes and high quality botanicals. They include products with certifications of Kosher, Halal and the USDA organic certification provided by Pro-Cert Organic Systems. You can see all the individual product certifications HERE. These products are also manufactured at on-site NSF Good Manufacturing Practice and GMP for Sports registered facilities. Harvesting, cooling, cleaning, water removal, freezing and storage is all done is less than 5 hours of time to protect nutritional quality with attention given to minimal environmental impact and preserving the unique sustainable ecosystems the raw ingredients are obtained from.

The bottom line is to decide what is important to you in how your food sources are raised, harvested and processed. Then look for the logos on the food label for any product you buy to be sure you are getting just what you want.

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Image courtesy of mapichai  /


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