For related articles and more information, please visit OCA’s All About Organics page, Fair Trade and Social Justice page, and our The Myth of Natural page.

Peeling Back the Label It can be confusing trying to make sense of all the environmental claims plastered on food products lining grocery store aisles. Here’s the truth behind the print.

Take a look at your local grocer’s shelves and you’ll see food with stickers and packages promoting an array of feel-good, environment-friendly assertions-from “cage free,” “hormone free,” and “all natural” to “organic,” “fair trade,” and even “biodynamic.” There’s a reason for all this green branding. Since 2003 U.S. organic food sales have more than doubled, to roughly $25 billion. The booming demand for organic foods is making greenwashing more tempting-and more lucrative-than ever before. One study found that about a third of all new food products launched in 2008 claimed to be “natural.”

With all the different green food labels-there are about 100, depending on how you choose to define them-figuring out which ones are the most meaningful can be challenging. The mother of all eco-labels is, of course, “organic.” Experts say this one showed the way in terms of defining methods of growing food that are gentler on the landscape. But even “organic” has its limitations. For one, organic certification addresses neither working conditions for farm workers nor impacts on wildlife habitat or water quality.

What this all means is these days, you really have to do your homework to know what you’re buying, even if the packaging does have an eco-friendly seal. The following lists aim to peel back the labels.