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The average grocery store carries 50,000 items. If you are shopping for sustainable foods the choices can be bewildering.  Whether it is packaged food or fresh–the COOL label, USDA Organic label, and Fair Trade label, described below are a must to know about and understand for simplifying purchase decisions.      

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL)

A labeling law that requires retailers, such as full-line grocery stores, supermarkets, and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods. Food products covered in the law include muscle cut and ground meats: beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, and macadamia nuts; and ginseng.

COOL labels can help you make sustainable food choices. How? For example, when considering your vegetables and fruits. To maintain a healthy, sustainable diet it is important to eat a wide variety and several servings of fresh fruit and vegetables every day. Yet finding sustainable produce can be confusing, especially in the winter months when local, seasonal food availability declines.  A lot of the fresh produce you see in grocery stores in the United States (and other foods) are imported from Asia, China, Mexico, and Central and South America. These countries have different laws on pesticide application than we have in the United States. In some instances pesticides that have been banned in the U.S. because of their toxicity are used on crops in these import countries. To reduce your exposure to banned pesticides, choose USA grown or organic.

Pesticide residues can pollute water, are a concern to human health, and can harm ecosystems. In addition, pesticides are associated with the recent deaths and the dramatic decline of several species of migrating song birds.

Fair Trade Certified

Fair Trade Certified means much more than just a fair price to farmers overseas. According to TransFair USA, the only independent, third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S., it also refers to foods produced on farms that practice environmental sustainability. Harmful agrochemicals and genetically engineered (GE) foods are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations. In addition, Fair Trade Certified foods come from farms where workers enjoy safe working conditions and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

USDA Organic Label

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage-sludge based fertilizers; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Look for the green USDA Organic label to ensure that the food you are purchasing is organic.

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