Sustainable Food Certifications

With so many food certifications out there these days it can be confusing to make sense of it all. We've put together this list to try to take some of the mystery out of these labels. We feel that third-party certifications are an important part of the sustainable food movement, especially in situations when you can't know your farmer or producer but still want to ensure foods were produced in a sustainable manner.


Did you know high fructose corn syrup can be considered natural according to the FDA?  The term natural is unregulated and undefined by the FDA and is essentially at the whim of food producers. The FDA has "not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances." The USDA, on the other hand, has clearly defined "naturally raised" for meat and poultry products as "no growth promoters, antibiotics, animal by-products, or fish by-products."  For the most part, natural can mean whatever processors like and is not verified by a third party.


Unlike natural, organic is legally regulated by the USDA and is verified by a third party. Organic foods are produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers; sewage sludge is forbidden; seeds and food cannot be treated with irradiation; and GMO seeds are not used.  On average, organic food takes 30% less energy to produce. And it isn't just better for the planet, it's better for you too, because it's free of pesticides and fertilizers.  Check out the organic items used by Dining Services.

Fair Trade

The Fair Trade label promotes standards for fair labor practices, environmentalism, social policy, fair pricing, and community development.  Like organics, fair trade is a regulated term that is third-party verified.  Buying fair trade ensures growers get a fair price for their products and are treated with respect. In 2012, Pomona College established a Fair Trade Resolution and became a Fair Trade University. All coffee and tea used by Dining Services is Fair Trade Organic.

Certified Humane

This certification requires the humane treatment of farm animals from birth to slaughter. Animals must have ample space, shelter and gentle handling to limit stress and be fed a fresh and healthy diet free of antibiotics or hormones.  Cages, crates and tie stalls are all forbidden and animals must be able to engage in natural behaviors, such as wing flapping for chickens or the ability to root around for pigs. All eggs purchased by Dining Services are Certified Humane and as well as the hamburger patties at the grill.

Food Alliance Certification

This certification is a comprehensive third-party certification for social and environmental responsibility in agriculture and the food industry. The Food Alliance Certification ensures safe and fair working conditions, humane animal treatment and careful stewardship of ecosystems. All eggs used by Dining Services carry this certification.


This is the only North-American third party verification and label for non-GMO food and products. The non-GMO label ensures that products are free of genetically modified organisms, which is not guaranteed by any other certification, even USDA organic (because of cross-contamination).


While locally-grown and -produced aren't food certifications or labels, we wanted to include "local" here because it's an important characteristic. There isn't one definition of local, but this generally refers to foods that were grown or produced in the surrounding area.  Sometimes this is defined by a certain number of miles, within a certain regional area or even what can be reached in a day's drive. According to the Sustainability Action Plan, Pomona College defines local as within 250 miles of campus as the crow flies. More on Dining Services' local vendor relationships.