Understanding Regenerative Agriculture Labels To Make Better Food Choices
Grocery shopping can be challenging enough, trying to decipher ingredient labels to determine which products are the healthiest. We also have organic and non-GMO logos to consider. The latest label trend is for products grown using regenerative agriculture, a holistic land-management practice focusing on soil and ecosystem health, resulting in many public health and environmental benefits like boosting biodiversity and sequestering carbon. As regenerative agriculture continues to gain attention, companies are realizing the benefits of being part of a verified labeling system that helps their products stand out on shelves.
Problems With Regenerative Agriculture Labeling
While this progress is critical to sustainability overall, there is unfortunately no universal standard and certification system for regeneratively grown products. With at least six main labels available to date, the market is flooded with inconsistent messaging about which products are best for our bodies and the planet.
Additionally, some of these labels miss key points. “Regeneration is not just about soil health. It is fundamentally about regenerating relationships, including the role humans play in the landscape. Caring human stewardship has the capacity to regenerate landscapes faster than anything else. That means we need to have the financial capacity to support those who care about being good stewards,” explains John Kempf, entrepreneur, author, speaker, podcast host, and teacher passionate about the potential of well-managed agriculture ecosystems to reverse ecological degradation. “Also, we do not need regenerative-verified farms, we need verified supply chains. This would include a fair-trade component to ensure economic fairness.”
The regenerative agriculture labeling system leaves more questions than answers, triggering concerns that adding logos to packaging could be greenwashing. It also makes it difficult for consumers to understand and choose the highest quality products. With more labels being added to products as we speak, and even the potential for some products to contain multiple regenerative agriculture labels, consumers will need to compare and contrast each label and figure out who is backing them and the process by which companies earn the label.
Identifying Regeneratively Grown Products
Here are summaries of the most common logos to look for and links to dig in a bit deeper before perusing the grocery aisles.
Certified Regenerative was established in 2014 by the independent nonprofit certifier A Greener World. The organization promotes practical, sustainable solutions in agriculture and upholds that regenerative agriculture is about more than soil carbon; it means healthier food, healthier and more biodiverse ecosystems, cleaner air and water, and better treatment of workers and animals.
The label covers a holistic range of farm-specific, risk-based metrics, such as soil health, biodiversity, energy efficiency, financial viability, social standards like a living wage, and animal welfare. Independently trained auditors visit every farm in the program on an ongoing basis to confirm that they are meeting rigorous standards.
A unique aspect of this label is that it prohibits the use of both agrochemicals and genetically modified crops. Certified Regenerative meets producers where they are as a partner in their regenerative journey, allowing them to earn the label without being certified organic. There is a convenient database on the website listing available labeled products.
Land to Market
With over 1,000 verified products and 80 member brands like Applegate and General Mills, Savory Institute’s Land to Market label initiated in 2018 is the world’s first verified regenerative sourcing solution for raw materials, such as meat, dairy, wool, hemp, wine, cashmere, and leather. These products are grown on land that is regenerating and verified by the science based on Savory Institute’s Ecological Outcome Verification™ (EOV™) protocol, which applies to the land, not specific products like other labels do.
Key criteria evaluated include soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem function. The label is committed to continually improving soil health but is criticized for focusing on outcomes rather than practices and does not have guidelines for how farms achieve those outcomes.
Regen1 is a coalition of over 150 stakeholders working to transition 1 million acres of farmland in Northern California to regenerative practices by 2025 with the hope that the framework will be adapted and scaled in other regions. Started in 2021, it is a program of Green Brown Blue, a food systems solutions activator produced by The Lexicon with support from Food at Google. Other participants include farmers, ranchers, scientists, retailers, food service providers, LinkedIn, Zero Foodprint, Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, Compass, University of California-Davis, Whole Foods, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Regen1 focuses on outcomes and recognizes that farmers and ranchers follow different paths to reach regenerative practices. The label encompasses five verifiable benefits of responsible farming: water, soil, equity, biodiversity, and air. Unlike other labels, it does not include carbon as a metric. Also, producers self-report their practices in an app; therefore, this label has less oversight than others.
Regenified is a verification and certification program for ranchers and farmers who work with nature to rebuild, revitalize, and restore ecosystem function, starting with the soil. Major players in the regenerative agriculture field, Regenified co-founders Gabe Brown and Dr. Allen Williams joined forces with other co-founders to develop a comprehensive and exhaustive standard and set of protocols that help maintain the integrity, trust, and transparency in the regenerative agriculture supply chain.
Designed to move agricultural supply chains toward regenerative agriculture to address both climate and human health, Regenified’s 6-3-4™ Verification Standard is based on six principles of soil health, three rules of stewardship, and four ecosystem processes that help farmers and ranchers understand where their practices are on the regenerative path. This comprehensive program, which measures outcomes and practices, has 16 pages of standards available to the public on its website.
Gabe Brown is excited about Regenified and believes it is the most thorough label out there. “We couldn’t find any other labels working so well. Plus, the others are not gaining traction at the scale we need them to.” A key of the program is that each producer works at their own pace to reach regenerative goals. “Any farmer or rancher can apply to be certified by Regenified. Our underlying goal is to help farms and ranches increase profitability. They can make a profit and allow the next generation to thrive.” Regenified is an approved label at Whole Foods Market. Look for labeled products on shelves soon.
Regenerative Organic Certified
As the first regenerative agriculture label, Regenerative Organic Certified began in 2017 and highlights food, textiles, and personal care products meeting standards for soil health, animal welfare, and farmworker fairness. It is overseen by the nonprofit Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA), a group of experts in farming, ranching, soil health, animal welfare, and farmer and worker fairness founded by the Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner’s, and Patagonia.
It expands upon the USDA Certified Organic standard, adding important criteria and benchmarks that incorporate three pillars of regenerative organic agriculture.
This label ensures that consumers can find regenerative products grown without pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Measuring both outcomes and practices, the label requires producers to meet a list of criteria, such as practicing cover cropping, to achieve certification. As probably the most recognized regenerative label in the market to date, it consists of 129 farms and 70 brands so far.
Soil Carbon Initiative
Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI) claims to be the first independent third-party regenerative agriculture commitment and verification program open to any farmer in any production system. Piloted in 2022, labels should appear in the marketplace mid-2023 on brands like Banza and Quinn. It was launched by The Carbon Underground and developed in partnership with Danone, General Mills, Green America, MegaFood, and Ben & Jerry’s.
SCI meets farmers where they are on their journey to regeneration to reach outcomes focused on soil health, carbon drawdown, biodiversity, climate resiliency, water use efficiency and quality, food security, farm profitability, and improved rural community economics. The farms are independently verified by SCS Global to make sure they are actively engaged in their transition plans, performing and reporting on required testing, and increasing the number of acres transitioned. The goal is for participating farms to have 75% to 100% of their farmed acres regenerative within 10 years of enrolling in the program. A unique aspect is that it focuses not just on the farm but the entire supply chain.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While each of these labels is backed by reputable organizations and seems to have good intentions and science behind them, the question remains: Why not combine all these endeavors into one label to make it easier for consumers and the entire supply chain? One logo endorsed by companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations would expect to build more confidence in the verification system and alleviate the confusion and duplication with the current labeling system.
These labeling programs help make the food supply chain transparent as more consumers care about where their food comes from and how it is grown. As Gabe Brown points out, the labels are hopefully just a temporary phase as we transition to regenerative agriculture. He asserts, “My goal is that no labeling will be necessary and that all farms are using regenerative practices anyway.” This is a worthy goal that we hope will come to fruition in the coming years. For now, consumers will have to weed through the confusion.