A great example is the word “natural.” What does it mean? And who decides? Unfortunately, there are few regulations in place for the term “natural,” and how it’s used gets pretty murky. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is only loosely paying attention to what foods have it on their label.

But there are trustworthy labels out there that can help you find food that aligns with your values. They guarantee that the food was produced in a way that can help you lower your “foodprint” — i.e. without pesticides, say, or genetically engineered ingredients. So whether you are concerned about animal welfare, environmental sustainability or fair wages for workers (or all three!), there are labels to help.

The FoodPrint Label Guide is here to help you decipher everything you see on your food. Here are the different categories:

Egg Labels

Egg cartons are notorious for showing pictures of happy hens pecking through grassy fields, but the reality of most egg laying operations is a far cry from this image. Most laying hens are raised in what are called “factory farms,” huge operations with thousands of birds in cages, or crammed in together on the floor. You have probably been trained to look for eggs that are “free-range” or “cage-free,” but even that is, well, complicated.

If you want to buy eggs from hens who were allowed to roam freely and forage, then look for pasture raised eggs. Eggs from hens raised on pasture are better for you, better for the environment and better for hens. You can read more about it in our FoodPrint of Eggs report.

The trick is finding eggs that are truly pasture raised, since it’s legally acceptable to put that claim on an egg carton without it being wholly true. Look for certifications like Animal Welfare Approved, and Whole Foods’ Global Animal Partnership Steps 4, 5 and 5+, which let you know that a third party certifier has guaranteed these conditions.

There is no one label that comprehensively addresses whether hens were raised entirely on pasture, treated with high animal welfare standards, fed high-quality feed, and handled by workers who are fairly treated and compensated. As a result, you just have to decide which factors are most important to you and then seek out the appropriate label, where available.

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