Things to Know When Reading Labels

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By Jodi Lee

Feed your family pure, natural, organic muffins, swaddle your baby in pure, natural, organic lotions, nurture your health with pure, natural, organic products.

And rest easy knowing you have done the best for your loved ones. You might even have a small moment of smugness because you do it all….you have greened your family’s products, protected them from unseen evils.

SCREECH. Put the brakes on. Don’t believe everything you read until you read this article about how to interpret all of those words.

Labels carry a lot of weight. Just think of your own reaction to a product when someone proclaims it natural. Do you believe it is superior? A ‘pure’ something better than one without that word? And of course we all *know* that organic is the gold standard. Unfortunately, for the most part, we would be wrong to make these assumptions.

The labeling of pure, natural, or organic actually has specific rules and guidelines about what it means. And most labels with pure and natural are misleading. Organic must have the USDA or the Canadian logo on the package for you to be confident it is actually a certified organic product – the contents of which you can trust.

Sadly, many companies use these labels without following the rules.

So how can you confidently choose quality green products for yourself and your family?

Organic – when looking at an organic label, always look for the USDA and the newly introduced Canadian logo. Without those logos, the organic claim has not been substantiated and you have no way of knowing if the contents are truly organic. Also you should keep in mind that to be labeled as certified organic, the contents must be 95% from certified organic sources. But remember, just because it has the word organic doesn’t mean it is, it must have the logo.

Pure – The term “pure” cannot be used on the labels of food that is a compound, mixture, imitation or substitute. Essentially, a pure label means one ingredient excluding water. But there are no current regulations to enforce this (Canada –, only suggested uses of the word. It is up to you as a consumer to read the ingredient list and think about what you see. For example, 100% pure pork sausages should not have anything in the ingredient list other than pork and water. For cosmetic products, I find that many of them don’t even have an ingredient list. There is simply no way fro me to confidently believe the claim on face value

Natural – According to the FDA, natural Ingredients come or are made from a renewable resource found in nature (Flora, Fauna, Mineral), with absolutely no petroleum compounds. For a product to be labeled as natural, it must be made with at least 95% natural ingredients – excluding water. But again, few labels follow these rules and governing bodies are not enforcing them.

What is a green parent to do?

The key green fact to take from here is to think critically about those warm and fuzzy words like pure, natural, and organic. Let those concepts prompt you to investigate further so that you really are making green choices for your family.

Here are some sites to keep close by to help you navigate the world of labels.

This website provides a list of certified natural care products
Cosmetic database

Take our Going Green Challange
and learn how you can increase your green IQ even more.

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