Understanding Food Labels and Certificates:

A Comprehensive Guide

Introduction

Understanding food labels and certifications can be very confusing. With so many choices like organic, bio, and eco products, and labels like AOP, IGP, and PDO, it’s hard to know what they all mean. These certifications give important info about how sustainable, ethically produced, and high-quality the food products are. This guide is here to help break down the main global and official food labels and certifications, so you can make informed choices. We’ll also cover local and regional labels and other eco-labels in Europe to give you a full view of food certifications in the region. In Europe, food labels tell us about where the food comes from, how it’s made, and its sustainability. Let’s explore some of the most famous food labels in the area.

Global and Official Food Labels & Certificates

Eco, Bio & Organic:

THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE

The terms ecological, biological, and organic, as well as the abbreviations eco and bio, all mean the same thing.
You can recognize real eco, bio, and organic foods* by the Euroleaf label. So, even if the packaging looks rustic or eco-friendly and the word bio is written all over it, it is not organic unless it features the Euroleaf and the inspection body’s code certifying the product’s origin and raw materials.

The words “ecological,” “biological,” and “organic,” as well as the short forms “eco” and “bio,” all mean the same thing. The real eco, bio, and organic foods have the Euroleaf label. Even if the packaging looks earthy or eco-friendly and says “bio” in big letters, the product isn’t truly organic unless it has the Euroleaf and the code from the inspection body that certifies where the product comes from and what materials were used. These products are made sustainably, respecting natural systems and protecting the natural landscape. They also make good use of energy and natural resources, and they have high animal welfare standards. They don’t have GMOs, and they use artificial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides as little as possible.

The seal of the European Union. Regulation (EU) 2018/848 of the European Parliament and of the Council on organic production and labeling of organic products

Fairtrade

THE MOST ESTABLISHED LABEL FOR FAIRLY PRODUCED AND TRADED PRODUCTS

Fairtrade aims to eliminate poverty by providing better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers worldwide, with a focus on lower-income countries.

Fairtrade is all about making sure that farmers and workers around the world get a fair deal. It’s about providing fair prices, good working conditions, sustainability, and fair trade terms, particularly in lower-income countries. If you see the original Fairtrade mark on a product, it means that it has been produced and traded fairly, and you can trace it all the way back to the farm. You might also come across the Fairtrade mark with an arrow on products like chocolate bars or cereal, which means that the ingredients, such as cocoa, sugar, and vanilla, are all Fairtrade certified, making up at least 20% of the total content. Keep an eye out for the white and black Fairtrade marks too, as they indicate whether the ingredients are Fairtrade certified.

Products with the original Fairtrade mark are fairly produced and traded but also fully traceable (kept separate from non-certified products) from farm to shelf. This mark can be found on single-ingredient products such as coffee and avocados.

The Fairtrade mark with an arrow is used on products like chocolate bars or cereal that have a mix of ingredients. All the ingredients in these products have to be Fairtrade, like cocoa, sugar, and vanilla. The minimum total Fairtrade content is 20%. The mark is also used on single-ingredient products that have been sourced using “mass balance” for cocoa, sugar, fruit juice, and tea.

The white Fairtrade mark indicates Fairtrade-sourced ingredients, like Fairtrade cocoa in a breakfast cereal. This differs from the black mark, which signifies all ingredients are Fairtrade certified. In this model, the product carries these labels to indicate specific Fairtrade-certified ingredients, such as Fairtrade cashews in mixed nuts or Fairtrade honey in a non-Fairtrade cereal.

FSSC 22000

Food Safety System

Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) makes sure that the products you buy are safe, affordable, and high-quality. FSSC combines ISO standards with industry-specific programs and extra requirements to ensure that it’s recognized globally. The certification is recognized internationally by The Global Food Safety Coalition (GFSI) and is managed by an Advisory Committee of food experts at Foundation FFC.

Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) ensures that the food you buy is safe, affordable, and top-notch. FSSC combines ISO standards with industry-specific programs and extra requirements to ensure global recognition. The certification is recognized worldwide by The Global Food Safety Coalition (GFSI) and is managed by an Advisory Committee of food experts at Foundation FFC. Food manufacturers show their dedication to current food standards by integrating quality management and food safety into FSSC 22000-Q certification.

Food manufacturers demonstrate their commitment to current food standards by integrating quality management and food safety into FSSC 22000-Q certification.

RAINFOREST ALLIANCE

RESTORING THE BALANCE BETWEEN PEOPLE AND NATURE

The Rainforest Alliance promotes sustainability and aims to make sustainable farming the norm for cocoa, coffee, tea, and hazelnuts. A product with the seal contains one or more key ingredients produced with social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

The Rainforest Alliance is dedicated to promoting sustainability and making sustainable farming the standard for cocoa, coffee, tea, and hazelnuts. Products with the Rainforest Alliance seal contain one or more key ingredients produced with a focus on social, economic, and environmental sustainability. The certification program is committed to protecting and improving forests, mitigating climate change through responsible land management and farming practices, advocating for the rights of farmworkers, and enhancing opportunities for smallholder farmers and forest communities.

Forests: The program promotes forest protection and
stopping deforestation. It encourages farmers to plant
more trees on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, rather than cutting down trees for farmland.

Climate: Standing forests store carbon, mitigating climate change. The program promotes responsible land management and farming practices to conserve trees and help farmers face climate-related disasters.

Human Rights: The certification program supports the rights of farmworkers and their communities by providing resources to prevent labor abuses and address issues as they arise. 

Livelihoods: Improving opportunities for smallholder farmers and forest communities is crucial for lifting rural people out of poverty and protecting important landscapes. Our certification program helps enhance farmer incomes.

FOOD QUALITY VALUING

VALUING SPECIAL QUALITIES WITH EU FOOD QUALITY SCHEMES

In the EU, certain quality schemes protect product names and highlight their unique traits and traditional know-how, assuring consumers of their genuineness, high quality, and strict safety standards.

In the EU, certain quality schemes protect product names and highlight their unique traits and traditional know-how, assuring consumers of their genuineness, high quality, and strict safety standards.

  • Protected Designation of Origin (PDO): This label is for products with the strongest links to the place they are made. All production, processing, and preparation must occur within the specific region. Example: Kalamata olive oil PDO.
  • Protected Geographical Indication (PGI): This label emphasises the link between a specific region and a product’s name, where its quality or reputation is tied to its geographical origin. Example: Westphalian Knochenschinken PGI ham.
  • Geographical Indication of Spirit Drinks (GI): This label protects the name of a spirit drink associated with a specific geographic origin. Example: Irish Whiskey GI.
  • Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG): This label emphasises traditional aspects of a product, such as production methods or ingredients, without being tied to a specific geographical area. Example: Gueuze TSG beer.

GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATIONS

Geographical indications protect the names of products associated with specific regions and their unique qualities. There are three types:
• PDO
(protected designation of origin)
PGI (protected geographical indication)
GI (geographical indication for spirit drinks

PROTECTED DESIGNATION OF ORIGIN (PDO)
Product names registered as PDO are those that have
the strongest links to the place in which they are made.
Products: Food, agricultural products, and wines.
Specifications: All production, processing, and preparation must take place within the specific region,
using grapes exclusively from that area for wine production.
Example: Kalamata olive oil PDO is entirely produced in the region of Kalamata in Greece, using olive varieties from that area.
Label: Mandatory for food and agricultural products, optional for wine.

PROTECTED GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATION (PGI)
PGI emphasizes the link between a specific region and
a product’s name, where its quality or reputation is
tied to its geographical origin.
Products: Food, agricultural products, and wines.
Specifications: For most products, at least one
production stage must occur in the region. For wine, at
least 85% of the grapes used must come exclusively
from the geographical area where the wine is made.
Example: Westphalian Knochenschinken PGI ham is made using traditional methods, but the meat used may not exclusively come from animals born and raised in that specific region of Germany.
Label: Mandatory for food and agricultural products, optional for wine.

GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATION OF SPIRIT DRINKS (GI)
The geographical indication protects the name of a spirit drink that is associated with a specific geographic origin.
Products: Spirit drinks
Specifications: At least one stage of distillation or
preparation for most products occurs in the region, although raw products are not required to originate from the region.
Example: Irish Whiskey GI has been distilled, matured,
and brewed in Ireland since the 6th century, although the raw materials are not exclusively sourced from Ireland.
Label: Optional for all products.

TRADITIONAL SPECIALITY GUARANTEED (TSG)

TSG emphasizes traditional aspects of a product, such as production methods or ingredients, without being tied to a specific geographical area. Registration protects the name from falsification and misuse.

Products: Food and agricultural products
Example: Gueuze TSG is a traditional beer produced through spontaneous fermentation in and around Brussels, Belgium, with a protected production method.
Label: Mandatory on all products

AOC is AOP or PDO and
DOC is DOP or PDO

French wines have traditionally been classified under the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) system, which was established by the French government in the 1950s. To attain AOC status, wines must be produced from approved grape varieties grown in specified regions and vinified, packaged, and marketed according to the appellation’s standards.
In the 1960s Italy introduced a similar system modeled after the French AOC, called DOC (Denominazione d’origine controllata), which means “Designation of Controlled Origin.”
In the 1990s, the European Union created a comprehensive system Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) under the Common Market Organization (CMO).
The European system doesn’t replace the AOC and DOC systems; it works alongside them. Wines are now classified under both the EU system and the national AOC and DOC systems.
As a result, AOC is also referred to as AOP (Appellation d’origine protégée) or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) in English, and DOC is also known as DOP (Denominazione d’origine protetta) or PDO in English.

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