Beyond Natural: How A Greener World Adds Transparency to Food Labels

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Firsthand Foods has partnered with Animal Welfare Approved now A Greener World (AGW) since its inception eight years ago. AGW provides critical animal welfare certification services for our pork and lamb producers, visiting producers in our network and verifying that they are indeed implementing and abiding by strict standards for humane production (and in the case of pork, for certified non-GMO production). You’ll notice the AGW logo on many of our products.  We sat down with Callie Casteel, AGW’s Southeast Farmer and Market Coordinator, to learn more about their consumer education initiatives and why they value working with Firsthand Foods.

FHF: Why is it so important to consumers to have labels like yours that they can trust? How do you build that trust? 

AGW: Food labels are one of the primary methods of conveying information about a product. Meat, dairy and egg labels often carry claims like “natural,” “humanely raised” or “free range” to attract buyers to purchase the product. While some of food label claims are legally defined and can only be used if certain rules are met, the vast majority are completely unregulated. As a result, the world of meat, dairy and egg labeling is at best confusing … at worst just plain misleading.

For example, research shows over 60 percent of consumers look for the “natural” label claim when out shopping. Yet a “natural” label claim has absolutely nothing to do with how animals are raised, what they are fed or if they had any access to pasture. It simply means the food contains no artificial ingredients or added colors, and that it was minimally processed.

That’s where AGW comes in! We offer a growing family of trusted food labels—including Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW, Certified Grassfed by AGW and Certified Non-GMO by AGW—that truly live up to consumer expectations, assuring people that the food they buy comes from farmers and ranchers who manage their animals and land according to the highest welfare, sustainable farming practices in North America.

AGW builds trust literally from the ground up! AGW’s auditors conduct annual on-farm audits to ensure every farmer and rancher in the program is compliant with our robust farm standards. All AGW policies and procedures are available publicly, and we’re proud to be the only farm animal program in the U.S. accredited to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17065, designed to ensure that a certification body is operating consistently and reliably in all aspects of its work.

Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW has been lauded by Consumer Reports as the only “highly meaningful” label for farm animal welfare, outdoor access and sustainability. So when you’re shopping and you come across an AGW-certified product, you can be assured that the product benefits the health of people, animals and the environment.

FHF: So much of what you do surrounds educating consumers about where their food comes from. What kind of responses do you get to that? Do you see a lot of consumers stepping up and wanting to empower themselves with more knowledge? 

AGW: Learning about where your food comes from and how it is produced can seem daunting at first. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed or frustrated at the state of the current food system, particularly when they begin to understand the huge toll that industrial agriculture is taking on human health, animal welfare and the environment. People’s responses vary, but one thing is clear: more people than ever want to know how they can make a difference and what action they can take.

For some people, this means simply learning about what food labels mean—and don’t mean—so they feel more confident when purchasing food for themselves and their family. (Our free Food Labels Exposed guide is a great place to start!) For others, making a difference means using our online database to find AGW-certified farms and products in your  area and/or asking for better food choices where you  shop and eat.

At AGW, we have the honor and privilege of working with farmers and ranchers across North America—and around the world—whose livelihoods and daily work help feed their communities, improve the environment and strengthen rural economies, literally making the world a better place every single day! We want to remind people of this and help people transform their knowledge into positive action. The problems of the world aren’t going to fix themselves, so our mission is to help people make simple changes in ways that work for them as individuals.

FHF: What do you like best about working with Firsthand Foods and other similar businesses?

AGW: We like working with conscientious retailers and businesses like Firsthand Foods because we believe that access to high-quality food that is good for the environment, humans and animals is a right and not a privilege. Making high-welfare, sustainable products more accessible and more widely available is a key aspect of our mission—and fundamental to the development of a truly sustainable food system—and businesses like Firsthand Foods have a vital role to play in making this happen.