EU Certified? Organic? UTZ? Rainbow Alliance? What does it all mean!?

The “oolong” and short of it: 

  • Organic (Including USDA Organic) certifications vary from country to country, but primarily deal with how the growing circumstances affect the quality of a product. Some local organic labels are not recognized internationally.
  • Fair Trade certifications predominantly regulate the working conditions of the growers and producers. 
  • EU Certification includes a bit more of the humanitarian guidelines than USDA Organic does, but still focuses more on the quality of the product.
  • UTZ and Rainbow Alliance Certifications (which are separate entities, that have recently merged) combine environmental and humanitarian goals for comprehensive sustainability. 

Why not just get all the certifications?

Most of these certifications are expensive and place the financial burden of certification, renewal fees, and the cost of education and maintenance of sustainable practices on the farmers/ producers. This can add up to high costs making it especially difficult for small farmers to obtain certification, even if they already follow the most rigorous standards. 

This page is designed to give a snapshot of the different standards of certifications. You can follow the embedded links for more information from the organizations themselves.

USDA Organic: Introduced in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and supplemented with Rules and regulations developed in 2000 by The National Organic Program (NOP), “organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.” These guidelines refer mostly to the product, not to the workers or the wildlife who may be affected by production. 

Before a producer can even begin to be certified Organic, the land must comply with NOP standards for at least 3 years. From there, farmers/ producers must pay for inspections, assessments, and travel costs for certifying agent as well as annual renewal fees which can range from $700-$2000 annually. Though cost-share programs may be available to reimburse up to 75% of certification fees, education and implementation are entirely up to the farmer/ producer. 

The most recent guidelines were updated 10/28/10 according to the USDA website. (As of 04/17/2019) They include:

  • avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives), irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge
  • avoidance of genetically modified seed
  • use of farmland that has been free from prohibited chemical inputs for a number of years (often, three or more)
  • for livestock, adhering to specific requirements for feed, housing, and breeding
  • keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail)
  • maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products
  • undergoing periodic on-site inspections

Fair Trade: USA Fair Trade Certified™ seal comes from an American-based non-profit organization called Fair Trade USA. They work directly with producers and certify fair relationships between companies and suppliers by encouraging transparent supply chains across a global model. Certification costs over $3,000 for initial certification and over $2,000 annually to renew. 

Their standards, which are updated at least every 5 years, focus on

  • Income Sustainability
  • Empowerment
  • Individual and Community Well-Being
  • Environmental Stewardship

EU Certified: The EU-Eco-Regulation of 1992 developed into an EU-wide label in March 2022. The standards were largely based on Denmark’s organic food policy which holds the highest rate of recognition in the world. 

  • the responsible use of energy and natural resources
  • the maintenance of biodiversity
  • preservation of regional ecological balances
  • enhancement of soil fertility
  • maintenance of water quality

A new applicant must pay €85 in addition to the base certification fee of about €1,150. Renewal depends upon the size of the operation, but generally costs over €1,000 annually. The standards are regularly updated with new legislation starting 01/01/2021 that include

  • a strengthening of the control system, helping to build further consumer confidence in the EU organics system
  • new rules for producers which will make it easier for smaller farmers to convert to organic production
  • new rules on imported organics to ensure that all organic products sold in the European Union are of the same standard
  • a greater range of products that can be marketed as organic

Rainforest Alliance: A global leader in sustainability certification, the Rainbow Alliance certifies farms and producer groups using the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Standard’s strict criteria regarding environmental, social, and economic sustainability. A green frog seal marks those farms that meet the certification requirements which strive for

  • More efficient farm management
  • Less soil erosion
  • Less water pollution
  • Less waste produced
  • Improved crop quality, reduced worker complaints, increase worker efficiency for improved profitability and competitiveness
  • Protect Wildlife Habitat (Stop deforestation, protect wetland, river, and forest ecosystems)
  • Reduced threats to the environment and human health via strict regulation of agrochemicals.
  • Less water consumed
  • Improved working conditions including minimum wages, housing, clean drinking water, sanitary facilities, safe workplace, and access to schools, healthcare, transportation, and training
  • More collaboration between farmers and conservationists

UTZ: Merged with Rainforest Alliance, these certifications are mutually recognized but not interchangeable. The name comes from “UTZ kapeh” (pronounced o͞otz kahpāy) meaning “good coffee” in the Guatemalan Mayan language of Quiché.

UTZ standards tackle climate change, deforestation, and rural poverty with a strategy that centers on sustainable livelihoods. Not a pass/fail model, this new certification model measures and incentivizes progress. They work with farmers, co-ops, communities, and local field experts to assess farmers’ specific needs and work together to constantly improve in all areas including training, technical assistance, sustainable financing, public-private partnerships, and/or facilitation of market linkages, in addition to certification. An advocacy team advances policy to aid in simplifying sustainability efforts and acquire both private and government investments which go toward premiums to assist newly certified groups with the cost it takes to set up sustainable practices. UTZ Code of Conduct outlines clearly defined checkpoints to ensure growth and compliance. These checkpoints include

  • Setting guidelines for farming methods and working conditions that ensure long-term care for the local environment and future generations
  • Regular auditing
  • Continuous improvement regarding safety, farm management, record keeping, employee and environmental protections
  • Reviewing and revising standards at least every 5 years
  • Logging UTZ certified Chain of Custody in the Good Inside Portal for transparency throughout the entire supply chain