Reaping the benefits of certification labels

August 23, 2010 at 4:25 am Leave a comment

You can read The Omnivore’s Dilemma to get the full story about how industrial agriculture came to be in the US, but it’s actually a recent development. For years, people have farmed exactly the same way: at a low yield to feed the family and a few townspeople, with the help of animals to pull plows and provide fertilizer, always growing and rotating a variety of crops. With the invention of modern farm equipment and techniques, the application of patent protection to high yield seeds, government subsidies, and the wide-spread use of pesticides, farming in the last 50 years has become more of a cut-throat political game then anything.

Organic farmingOrganic farming has become quite fashionable, and many producers have jumped on the band wagon in order to capitalize on the ever-growing and affluent LOHAS segment.  This is a marketing term that refers to a particular group that focuses on sustainability, makes thoughtful decisions about what products they buy, and that relies on food certification labels to at the point of sale. But some independent farmers have always used organic techniques, not just in the past few years when the industry has boomed, but have been unable to label and sell their products as such because of government restrictions. The kicker is that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) manages the organic labeling of foods in the US, and like any certification, it involves a lot of time and money to obtain and maintain the status.

But the economic downturn has affected everyone, including small, independent farmers who already operate on a low margin. Many who have been “hold outs” for the organic label are reconsidering their ban, and are now coughing up the yearly fees and royalties necessary to sell their “officially organic” products to grocery chains like Whole Foods. Even though organic techniques have been at the core of these producers’ values since the beginning, the competition, including large conglomerates, have taken the segment by storm and reaped the increased sales due to their USDA organic-labeled foods. At this point, giving into more government involvement in the food system is the only way that they can compete.

So what does this sudden change of heart tell us? Despite what your opinions are about the industrial food system, one thing is clear: certification labels matter. All consumers, not just the ones in the LOHAS segment, are starting to ask more questions about their products, including where it was produced, by who, and under what conditions. However scary they may be, scandals in the marketplace are driving the demand of increased supply chain transparency. No one wants to get salmonella from eggs they purchased at the corner store, or serve contaminated food to their dogs, and certification labels, although confusing at times, do help the consumer to make reliable decisions.

Changes in the food system are just the beginning, and conscious consumerism is beginning to pop up in other industries including apparel and footwear.  Transfair USA, the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the US, will soon be fully launching its Apparel and Linens pilot.  What this means for you is that for the first time in history, you will be able to choose an ethical tee shirt over one that was made in a sweat shop.

Marigold Fair Trade Clothing is part of this program (more news to come later…), and while you have come to trust and love our company through our stories and transparency, you will soon have an official certified label to verify what you have always known: that buying a product from Marigold connects you to the producers and offers you a chance to be part of an alternate trade system that respects human dignity and sustainability.

Discussion:

What are your thoughts on certification labels? Do they affect your purchase decisions, and if so in what categories? If one clothing item was labeled organic and fair trade, and the one next to it did not have the certifications, how would your thought process change? Do you think a label can help to increase sales?

Source: Seeing ‘Gain’ in the Label Organic, The New York Times, August 7, 2010

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Entry filed under: Conscious consumerism, In the media, Transfair Certification. Tags: , , , , , , .

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