So, I've put together a brief primer of what the most common certifications generally mean, so you have a better idea of what you are buying and can feel confident when you are purchasing from sustainable-oriented farms that you are choosing something that is safe for the environment, your health and your family.
Certified Organic - When a product is labeled "certified organic" it means that the grower has complied with the following standards:
Claimed Ecologically Safe - There is no certification for this, it is the producer making the claim to use organic practices (see above), but without being checked. Not all farmers can afford the process of becoming organic certified, so they will follow the organic farming guidelines but won't pay for an actual certification.
Certified Naturally Grown From the CNG website, "when USDA's Organic program was implemented in 2002, many farms earning more than $5,000 per year were forced to make a difficult choice: either pay high certification fees and complete mounds of paperwork to become Certified Organic, or else give up using the word 'organic' to describe their produce and/or livestock.
Believing that neither choice was very attractive, some farmers created Certified Naturally Grown to provide an alternative way to assure their customers that they observed strict growing practices. CNG strives to strengthen the organic movement by removing financial barriers to certification that tend to exclude smaller direct-market farms, while preserving high standards for natural production methods."
Details of the certification standards can be found here, but suffice it to say that they are very similar to the Organic certification standards, just more affordable.
Food Alliance Certification - The Food Alliance site states that this certification is: "independently verified by a third-party certifier. To be certified, farms, ranches, and food handlers need to meet a comprehensive hierarchy of standards, evaluation criteria, and indicators."
These standards include (but are not limited to):
And, for those of you who live in the Northwest:
Salmon Safe Certification - According to the Salmon Safe website: "The Salmon-Safe label on a product means it was created using healthy practices that keep Pacific Northwest rivers clean enough for native salmon to spawn and thrive. Farms and urban sites earn Salmon-Safe certification after a rigorous assessment that includes on-the-ground inspection by expert independent certifiers.
Land managers can do much to promote healthy landscapes for salmon by planting trees along riverside areas, improving irrigation systems to reduce erosion, and limiting pesticides and other pollution from reaching waterways. On a product, the Salmon-Safe logo refers to how the crop is produced, not to the food or beverage product itself."
So, there you go. I hope this helps clarify some of the labels and certifications you see when making food purchasing choices. Really, the best way to know how your food is grown is to talk to your grower by visiting their websites, meeting them at farmers markets and going to their farms if at all possible!