Guide to Organic and Fair Trade Labelling

These days it’s easy to get lost in the world of labelling when you’re looking for fairly-traded, organic food. The sheer popularity of food that has proven environmental benefits means that organisations across Europe and the US now offer their own version of organic standards – each with its own distinctive label. When you start throwing in less scrupulous parties eager to cash in on the trend for organic, without necessarily doing their bit for the planet, it’s not surprising consumers can become confused. To help you out, here is a selection of the labels you can trust – as well as tips on the stickers to be a little more dubious about!

The Soil Association

The Soil association is Bristol-based organisation, launched in 1946, which today is one of the leading campaigning voices in promoting the organic movement. Finding the association’s distinctive logo on your produce means that the food has gone through a rigorous testing regime to make sure it’s free from nasty chemicals and farmed with minimal negative interference in the natural environment. Once primarily associated with fruit and vegetables, the Soil Association’s logo mark is now seen on everything from naturally-produced textiles to beauty products.


A French body set up in 1991, the Ecocert label is one of the most common organic labels seen on European food. The organisation currently inspects organic produce in eighty countries around the world in global markets as diverse as Brazil, Romania and Canada. In this country you’re most likely to see the Ecocert label on imported natural and organic beauty products imported to health stores in the UK.

American Certification

Due to its sheer size, America is one of the biggest markets for organic food, textiles and cosmetics. However, because the market is so lucrative, many different organic accreditation bodies are fighting to corner the sector – making it truly confusing for American consumers to decide on what’s really organic. At the moment, four different bodies (including NaTrue, OASIS, NSF and the NPA) are trying to win supremacy. Though they all have similar aims, their standards differ – especially in the definition of ‘natural products’ as opposed to ‘organic’. Until the organic process is streamlined (which is likely to happen in the law courts) consumers interested in American organic products are best advised to research websites and judge each label on its own merits.

The Fairtrade Foundation

For contentious consumers, looking for the black and white Fair Trade Mark on everything from coffee to clothes can be just as important as picking organic. The mark means that that product has been approved by the Fairtrade Foundation – an independent body which ensures producers in poor countries are being paid a proper premium for their wares.

Be Own-Brand Aware

As the credit crunch continues to bite, cunning supermarkets are sometimes unscrupulously cashing in on consumers’ lack of awareness when it comes to organic and environmental labels. Recently, supermarkets have started to apply eye-catching green-coloured labels (often featuring a flower or naturally-inspired design), meant to give customers assurances that the goods are produced in an environmentally-friendly fashion. However, these claims are often not ratified by an outside agency – and websites can reveal that token attempts at going green sometimes don’t amount to much!