Know your labels

From Red Tractor to organic to MSC (the Marine Stewardship Council)—deciphering food labelling can be confusing when there are so many to be seen on the food that we buy. Taking the time to understand what just a few of the most common labels mean, and choosing to buy the ones that match your values can have a positive impact on people, animals and the environment.

There are several labels or certifications that tell us something about the way the meat that we eat was reared. One of the most common labels on meat is Red Tractor, which means that the meat was reared in the UK above minimum legal welfare standards.

Choosing higher welfare meat usually means that the animals were treated more humanely and farmed in a way that is better for the environment. Two common labels relating to high welfare standards are RSPCA Assured and organic—both have strict standards that farmers must follow in order to be certified, and can apply to meat, farmed fish, dairy cattle or egg-laying poultry.

Free range isn’t a certification, but can tell us that animals were free to range outside during the day. The term ‘free range’ only has legal minimum standards for poultry raised for meat and to lay eggs.

Labels such as Red Tractor and organic can also apply to other products, such as vegetables, and tell us something about how the product was produced. Red Tractor tells us it was grown in the UK, and is safe and traceable, whilst organic standards are recognised as being some of the highest in the world in terms of caring for the environment.

It’s also common to find labels on the fish that we buy—they can tell us that the fish hasn’t been taken from an over-fished part of the sea and has been caught in a way that doesn’t damage the wider environment. One such label is MSC, but there are also great resources online that can help us decide what are the most and least sustainable fish to eat at the moment—see the Good Fish Guide in the resources section.

Making sure that just one or two of the products we buy most often carries a higher welfare label or has been recognised as more sustainable goes a long way to supporting better farming and fishing practices. Eating less but better quality meat, fish and dairy can help the environment in several ways and is a great way of voting for a better planet with our pounds.

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