New Labels On The Block

Olive oil and organic get more transparent labels. What food labels are next?

by Dani Yokhna

Check out these new food labels.

“Labels” is such a buzz word in food and ag at the moment. There’s the ongoing fight over Country of Origin Labeling and, of course, the fight over genetically modified organism labeling, and recently, there have been two new labels making more quiet entrances to the marketplace.

Transitional Certification

Farmers transitioning into USDA Organic Certification have a difficult three years ahead of them. In order to qualify as organic, you must treat your land organically for three years prior to certification. Until you’re actually certified, though, you can’t call your products “organic,” so you have the huge cost of farming organically with none of the financial benefit gained from selling your items at organic market prices. This is an issue that’s discussed often when examining barriers to organic certification. It’s about time that someone stepped forward to do something about it, and organic certifier and educator CCOF was the one to do it first.

CCOF’s Transitional Certification label signifies a farm is beginning its three-year transition period. While this label isn’t federally regulated like the Certified Organic label, it does demonstrate a farm’s organic intentions to consumers. In a press release, CCOF points out that the demand for organic is outpacing supply, and breaking down this labeling barrier can help to encourage more farms to make the switch by providing a bit of a financial cushion.

United States of Olive Oil

Olive oil snobs, rejoice! OK, it’s not just olive oil snobs who should be excited about this one, rather anyone who is for truth in food labels. (My hand is raised.) Last month, California governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 65, an olive-oil labeling bill that strengthens truth in California olive-oil labels.

When you purchase an olive oil that’s labeled as coming from a specific region in California, you can now expect it to be made from at least 85 percent of olives actually grown in that region. (Previously, it was 75 percent.) And when you purchase olive oil that’s labeled as coming from a specific estate in California, it will be at least 95 percent from olives grown on that estate.

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These distinctions might seem petty to some, but I get it. I spent enough time volunteering on farms in Turkey, Italy and Greece—hello, olive oil!—to know that folks get protective of their olives. Their olives are to them what grapes are to viticulturists. Each vineyard or farm has its own flavor and characteristics, and these are things to be respected. Now mindful consumers can respect them, too.

Reading about this made me think about milk and truth in milk labeling. While it’s not called “estate” milk, you can find what amounts to “estate” milk on small scales, from individual farms and producer co-ops. In researching this, I haven’t been able to find laws that pertain to milk coming from the place where the label claims, though. I’m happy to say I know the farmers who produce the milk that I drink, and I do trust that it actually comes from their farm!


I’m a big fan of communicating—an over-sharer, some might call me—so I’m pretty pleased when there’s clear communication in the form of labels that help me understand what I’m eating. What other food products or production practices do you wish had clearer labels so you could know more about them?

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