Reading the Label: Certification Marks Explained

Posted by Kardish Team on Aug 15, 2016 /  comments

Demystifying labels

While shopping at Kardish, you may notice that many of the packages on our shelves are labelled with certification marks. These marks allow shoppers to get information at-a-glance about the ingredients contained in products they buy, or even the environmental and human impacts behind their production

However, all the different icons and badges can be overwhelming for those of us who are new to reading ingredients closely. In this article, we cover a handful of the most common certification marks, what the requirements for each mark means, which organizations oversee them, and where you can find these marks on the products we stock.

Organic Foods & Products

The two most common organic certification marks you will see on our shelves are Canada Organic and the various levels of USDA Certified Organic.


Canada Organic         

Overseen by: The Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Purpose: Sustain the health and ecology of ecosystems, build relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment, and manage agriculture in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the wellbeing of current and future generations and the environment.

Requirements: The CFIA’s organic management standards bans a long list of substances and techniques including: synthetic fungicides, preservatives, fumigants and pesticides, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic growth regulators, cloned livestock and their descendants, prohibited synthetic veterinary drugs, prohibited synthetic substances used in product preparation, equipment treated with prohibited substances, and fertilizer that contains prohibited substances. Products labelled Canada Organic must contain 95% or more content that meets this standard.

The Canada Organic mark can be found on the front of Nature’s Path Sunrise cereals.

USDA Organic

Overseen by: The United States Department of Agriculture.

Purpose: Protect natural resources, conserve biodiversity, and use only approved substances.

Requirements: The USDA’s organic regulations specify production and processing requirements, as well as which substances are allowed or prohibited. Prohibited substances include: most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, growth hormones, sewage sludge, and genetic engineering.

USDA Organic has three levels of certifications, which vary depending on the amount of organic content:

  • "Made With" Organic: At least 70% of the ingredients must be certified organic. Any remaining agricultural products are not required to be organically produced, but must be produced without excluded methods. Non-agricultural products must be specifically allowed.
  • Organic: All Ingredients must be certified organic, except where specified on the national list. Non-organic ingredients are allowed up to a combined total of five percent of non-organic content.
  • 100 Percent Organic: All Ingredients must be certified organic, including any processing aids.

Superfoods - USDA Organic

The USDA Organic mark can be found on the front of SuperFoods Organic Coconut Chips.


Shoppers who have concerns about genetically modified organisms may choose to buy products labelled Canada Organic or USDA Organic (listed above), but there are also a growing number of certifications that focus specifically on the absence of GMO ingredients. The most common Non-GMO mark we carry is Non-GMO Project Verified.

Non-GMO Project Verified

Overseen by: The Non-GMO Project, a registered non-profit organization.      

Purpose: Preserve and build sources of non-GMO products, educate consumers, and provide verified non-GMO choices.

Requirements: All food and products with the Non-GMO Project Verified certification mark must contain less than 0.9% genetically modified ingredients, though absence of all genetically modified ingredients is the target for all Non-GMO Project Standard compliant products. Any “at risk” ingredient known to be grown commercially with genetically modified seeds must be tested to be compliant.

The Non-GMO mark can be found on the front of Made Good granola bars.

Fair Trade

The two most common fair trade certifications on our shelves are Fairtrade Certified and (the similarly named) Fair Trade Certified. The split between the two certifications began in 2011, when Fair Trade USA resigned their membership with Fairtrade International in order to provide certification for larger-scale producers.

Fairtrade Certified

Overseen by: Fairtrade International (FLO), a non-profit organization—and members, including Fairtrade Canada.

Purpose: Ensure that producers receive prices that cover the costs of sustainable production, enable greater producer control over the trading process, and ensure that the conditions of both production and trade of all Fairtrade certified products are socially, economically fair and environmentally responsible.

Requirements: Fairtrade International sets standards that apply to both producers and traders. All terms and conditions of Fairtrade transactions are detailed in contracts signed by the producers and buyers, and producers must receive at least a Fairtrade Minimum Price, which aims at covering average costs of sustainable production, or the market price, whichever is higher. Working conditions must be equitable for all workers, and salaries must be equal or higher than the regional average or than the minimum wage in effect. Fairtrade International requires that health and safety measures must be established in order to avoid work-related injuries. Fairtrade International prohibits the use of GMOs, as well as certain pesticides and fertilizers.

Fairtrade International Certification

The Fairtrade Certified mark can be found on the front of Arayuma Organic Coconut Milk.

Fair Trade Certified

Overseen by: Fair Trade USA, a non-profit organization.

Purpose: Enable sustainable development and community empowerment by cultivating a more equitable global trade model that benefits farmers, workers, consumers, industry and the earth.

Requirements: Fair Trade USA requires democratic and transparent decision making, training in workplace safety, freedom of association, pricing and marketplace decisions. Workers decide how to spend community development premiums to benefit their communities. Fair Trade USA guarantees minimum prices in some commodities and focuses on increasing wage levels for workers. Fair Trade USA prohibits the use of GMOs, as well as certain pesticides and fertilizers.

Fair Trade USA Certification

The Fair Trade Certified mark can be found on the front of Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Blue Agave Syrup.


Environmental certifications assure shoppers that the foods and products they buy are taking measures to reduce and mitigate harm to the environment and vital ecosystems. Two certifications you may see on our shelves are Rainforest Alliance Certified and the Forest Stewardship Council.

FSC and Rainforest Alliance

Both the Rainforest Alliance Certified and Forest Stewardship Council marks can be found on the side of Barbara’s Bakery cereals.

Rainforest Alliance Certified

Overseen by: The Rainforest Alliance, a Non-Governmental Organization.

Purpose: Conserve wildlife, safeguard soils and waterways, protect workers, their families and local communities, and ensure sustainable livelihoods.

Requirements: The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal verifies that farms are taking steps to maintain or increase tree cover, conserve soil quality and prevent erosion, reduce chemical use, protect wildlife, and ensure the well-being of workers and their families. Logging companies and forestry businesses are required to protect endangered species and forest areas of high conservation value, set aside a portion of land as forest reserve, provide workers with decent wages, and respect the rights of local communities and indigenous populations.

Forest Stewardship Council

Overseen by: The Forest Stewardship Council, an international non-profit.

Purpose: Promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world's forests.

Requirements: Conserve biological diversity and its associated values, water resources, soils and unique fragile ecosystems and landscapes. Maintain or enhance the long-term social and economic well-being of forest workers and local communities. Respect the legal and customary rights of aboriginal people to use and manage their lands, territories, and resources.


While the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has requirements for disclosing the presence of known allergens, it does not have guidelines for labelling when known allergens have been actively controlled for in production. As a result, many manufacturers have chosen to self-certify their products. One third-party allergen certification you are likely to come across is GF Logo.

GF Logo

Overseen by: The Gluten-Free Certification Organization, a non-profit organization.

Purpose: Provide certification for producers of gluten-free products using quality assessment and control measures throughout production, in order to provide assurance to consumers of the safety of their foods.

Requirements: All ingredients utilized in GFCO certified products are required to go through a stringent review process of approval, and all ingredients must contain 10ppm or less of gluten. Annual inspection and are required for manufacturers, and finished-product testing is also required.

Hidden Garden, Certified Gluten-Free

The GF Logo mark can be found on the back of Hidden Garden cookies.

Dietary Restrictions

Shoppers may not only be interested in avoiding certain ingredients for medical reasons. One of the most common non-medical certifications you are likely to find on our shelves is Certified Vegan.

Certified Vegan                    

Overseen by: The Vegan Awareness Foundation, a non-profit organization.

Purpose: Works to end cruelty to animals by educating the public about veganism and assisting vegan-friendly businesses.

Requirements: By ingredients, Certified Vegan products do not contain meat, fish, fowl, animal by-products (including silk or dyes from insects), egg products, milk products, honey or honey bee products, and must involve no animal testing of the ingredients or final product. The Certified Vegan mark does allow companies to use shared machinery, so certified foods and products may not be suitable for those with food allergies.

Skinny Pop - Certified Vegan

The Certified Vegan mark can be found on the back of Skinny Pop popcorn.


While this is only a partial list of certifications on products you can find on Kardish store shelves, we hope that this article has given you some insight into the certification marks on many of the foods and products we carry and the organizations behind each mark. If we missed a mark that you regularly look for, you can add to this conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments below.

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