Guide to Understanding Food Labels

Food labels can be confusing! Find out what the different symbols mean for your food and the environment in ReRoute's guide. 

We all know where to look to find the best before date and the ingredients in our food, but the labels on our food can also tell us where it came from, how the food was grown, whether it was fairly traded, and if it is an animal product, how the animals were kept. These labels can sometimes be confusing or misleading. So what do all these labels mean? Our handy guide will show you how to understand your food. 

Organic

Organic is a legally protected term so if a product is labelled as organic it must have met these standards:

  • Fewer pesticides and no herbicides are used
  • Fewer antibiotics used to treat animals
  • No genetically modified ingredients, hydrogenated fats, artificial food colourings or preservatives
  • All animals are kept free range and welfare is monitored
  • Areas are maintained for wildlife and hedgerows are not cut during breeding season
  • There are a few different logos to look out for including the EU organic logo and the Soil Association Logo

 

RSPCA Freedom Food

RSPCA Freedom Food covers welfare of farmed animals including the following areas. 

  • Food and water
  • Environment
  • Management of the animals
  • Health care
  • Transport
  • Humane slaughter

Welfare standards are higher than the UK legal minimum and generally slightly lower than welfare of soil.

Free Range

Animals have access to the outdoors which means they can perform more natural behaviours. There are lots of different labels that show free range animals.

Marine Stewardship Council 

The Marine Stewardship Council sets standards for wild fisheries to reduce the impact of fishing and improve sustainability. Fisheries must:

  • Target sustainable fish stocks so that there are enough fish left to allow populations to remain
  • Minimise environmental impacts – protecting the marine habitat and species
  • Be well managed, follow relevant laws and be able to quickly adapt to changes

If you are buying farmed fish, Soil association or RSPCA Freedom foods are good labels to look out for.

Fairtrade

Fairtrade ensures that farmers and workers in developing countries get:

  • A better price for their product
  • Improved working conditions
  • Workers rights
  • Investment in the community
  • A standard price so that farmers are less affected by price fluctuations

Rainforest Alliance

The Rainforest Alliance works with farmers, foresters and tourism entrepreneurs to help them earn a stable income while minimising their environmental impacts and protecting endangered species and protecting habitats.

Red Tractor Farm Assurance 

The Red Tractor Farm Assurance logo tells you that the food comes from a British farm and meets the minimum UK legal requirements.

When reading labels you will probably see the words natural, healthy, environmentally friendly…. the list goes on, but the labels above are the best way to ensure the food you buy meets the standards you care about.

Another thing to consider is how far your food has travelled? Many foods in the supermarket have travelled hundreds of miles to reach the supermarket. You can see the country of origin on the label and there may very well be a local alternative which hasn’t travelled as far. You could also decide to only buy things which are in season – a benefit is that foods are usually full of flavour when they are in season!