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Food labeling 101: GMO, organic, and other common grocery labels decoded

A quick, easy guide to nine commonly seen (and misunderstood) food labels, from 'GMO' to 'grass-fed.'

- Schuyler VelascoStaff writer

A Fair Trade Certified logo. (PRNewsFoto/Green & Black's/FIle)

3. Fair trade

Definition: “Fair trade” is a designation that focuses on workers’ rights in developing countries. There is no set description; in general, products are certified by one of several international fair trade federations. Fair trade coffee, for instance, is meant to be less exploitative of small-scale farmers and to reduce the environmental impact of coffee farming. Certified fair trade factories prohibit child labor and try to ensure that workers are making a living wage.

What it means for you:  Best-case scenario, it means that the workers on the other end of the product you buy aren’t being exploited by Western companies. There has been much debate among economists about whether fair trade practices actually help those they intend to reach, or if the money gets too far diverted elsewhere. Because the fair trade designation extends to a wide variety of industries and companies can be certified by several different organizations, actual fair trade practices can vary. It’s best to research individual companies to see if you support their practices.  


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