From organic to kosher to grass-fed to halal. What does it all mean? We see certifications all the time, but what are their meanings? To make things even more complicating, you find these “health conscious” labels on foods that seem not so healthy at all. So, today you are going to learn about the ethics, standards and legal requirements behind some of these certifications: Organic, Grass-fed, Kosher, and Halal. In addition to that, you will learn about specific foods that fall under each category. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like safest small kitchen appliances, favorite plastic-free products, & best and worst organic milk, now join us as we explore the organic, kosher & halal food certifications.
Disclosure: Vibe Israel sent Mamavation to Israel for 9-day trip. This post contains affiliate links.
Last year I took a trip to Israel to explore the country, enjoy the cuisine, and meet leaders in the wellness movement. Most foods over there are either vegan, kosher, halal, organic kosher, or organic halal. We had several vegan influencers in the group with us, so most of our meals were vegan. But vegan food is very popular in Israel as a uniting force among millennials. Whether you keep kosher, halal or nothing, vegan food is something they can all eat. Every dish I tasted was unique and delicious, but when I got home, I thought it would be fun to look into the differences and report on how they play out in the United States. Then I realized that most of the differences are in the production of meat, so we broadened the scope and decided to add grass-fed meats as well. Onwards to the certifications of organic, grass-fed, kosher, & halal.
USDA Organic Certification
The organic label is governed by the USDA and foods with this label must meet rigorous standards to earn the seal of approval. The USDA prohibits the use of synthetic substances at the time of and for a minimum of 36 months after removal in order for brands to earn this label. Sewage sludge, ionizing radiation (often in spices) and genetic engineering is not allowed in products with the organic label. Plus, brands must pay anywhere from several hundred to several thousands of dollars to receive this stamp of approval. In addition to payment, they must go through a rigorous audit from certifying agents, which takes an incredible amount of time and effort.
What’s in Organic Crops & Animals
All substances approved for organic foods must avoid the prohibited list, are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), and may not contain residues of heavy metals that exceed the tolerances set by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Before you get ahead of yourself, organic doesn’t always mean free from chemicals or healthy. Organic food can contain high amounts of sugar AND/OR low residue of pesticides from contamination problems, such as the lax enforcement policies that contaminated the food supply in 2018. However, organic is still a very good system of checks and balances. That is unless you are talking about organic infant formula, which is more marketing than reality. In organic farms you’ll find:
- Plant waste left on fields (green manure), livestock manure or compost to improve soil quality
- Plant rotation to preserve soil quality and to interrupt cycles of pests or disease
- Cover crops that prevent erosion when parcels of land are not in use and to plow into soil for improving soil quality
- Mulch to control weeds
- Bug gardens that encourage an increase of predatory insects, which eat the bad bugs. They are also allowed to use insect traps to control pests
- Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming, used rarely and only as a last resort in coordination with a USDA organic certifying agent
- Healthy living conditions and access to the outdoors
- Pasture feeding for at least 30 percent of livestock’s nutritional needs during grazing season
- Organic foods for animals
- Animals are given vaccinations
What’s Not in Organic Food
Organic is prohibited from using most of the ingredients approved by the FDA today for food. So, therefore, organic is really known by what it doesn’t have. And that’s because conventional food is so disappointing for so many reasons. Here is a list of some of the main ingredients and processes that organic rejects in order to give your family a healthier product that is safer for the environment (most of the time.)
- Artificial colors, preservatives, and additives
- Hormones and antibiotics
- Toxic and synthetic “cides” like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc. However, organic is able to use natural pesticides and other methods described here.
- Synthetic fertilizers, which contaminate the water supply
- Arsenic, lead salts, ash from manure burning and tobacco dust
- Sewage sludge
- Ionizing radiation (often in spices)
- Genetic engineering (GMOs)
One thing important to note is that claims of “grassfed” are no longer backed by the USDA. In 2016, the USDA stopped validating the grassfed claim and today anyone can call their product “grassfed” and get away with it it, even if it’s only 1% grassfed. However, there are some very legitimate certifying agencies we recommend.
As long as you understand that your “grassfed” beef may not be 100% grassfed unless it has one of these certifications, let’s talk about these certifications to you can understand more about what they mean. American Grassfed Association requires ranchers to provide 100% grassfed beef to consumers under these main four rules.
- Diet — Animals are fed only grass and forage from weaning until harvest.
- Confinement — Animals are raised on pasture without confinement to feedlots.
- Antibiotics and hormones — Animals are never treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. If prohibited medication or antibiotics are required for treatment, the animal must be tagged, identified, and removed from the certified grassfed program.
- Origin — All animals are born and raised on American family farms.
The Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) 100% Grassfed certification starts with organic certification. But adds the requirement that animals are feed 100% grass during the year.
There is one brand we like to work with who makes 100% grassfed beef more affordable and that’s ButcherBox. Butcherbox sends you a shipment of 100% grassfed beef, pastured pork & chicken and wild-caught Alaskan salmon to your door. You can also select grass-finished beef if you want, but if you only want 100% grassfed, make sure to select that. The beef comes from New Zealand and Australia, where the property is less expensive to manage therefore giving them the ability to compete on price. ButcherBox is offering Mamavation readers a deal on their first box of 2 Free Filet Mignon (2x6oz) + Free Bacon + $10 off. Click here if you would like to see more from ButcherBox.
The literal meaning of “kosher” means what is proper and acceptable. But in modern terms, Kosher refers to a set of intricate biblical laws that detail the types of food that a Jewish person who is keeping kosher may eat and the ways in which it may be prepared. Interestingly enough, only 8% of those who eat kosher are actually Jewish. They are eating Kosher foods because they believe they are a healthier alternative OR kosher foods are so common that they may not know they are eating them. Kosher foods are divided into three categories: meat, dairy and parve. Foods labeled kosher cannot contain dairy and meat that has been prepared together. Dairy and meat cannot be consumed together either. When food is called Parve, this means it is neutral and can be enjoyed with either dairy or meat. In our research, we found several kosher certification companies but the largest are OK Kosher certification and the OU Kosher certification.
Jewish Law: What’s Forbidden in Kosher Food
Kosher food originated in the Bible, and are detailed in the Talmud and the other codes of Jewish traditions. For instance, “You may not cook a young animal in the milk of its mother” (Exodus 23:19), which basically means you can’t eat meat and dairy in the same meal. But not only are they not allowed to be eaten in the same meal, but they are not allowed to be stored together either. Here are some additional things that are forbidden in the kosher certification.
- Causing any pain to animals
- After slaughter, forbidden fats and veins must be removed
- Fowl/poultry: eagle, owl, swan, pelican, vulture and stork are forbidden
- No cheese that’s manufactured with animal fats
- Additives can be added that aren’t kosher (whey) but render the product non-kosher
- Shellfish: shrimps, crabs, mussels, lobsters are forbidden
- Insects: insects with short legs are not kosher, which means most insects (check produce for insect infestation)
- All reptiles are forbidden
- One may not sow two seeds of any kind on a field or vineyard (no hybridization)
- Fruit from trees planted within the past 3 years are not to be eaten
- No new grain can be eaten or baked with
- Wine with gelatin, casein and bull blood are inadmissible and bottle stay not be filled several times
Behind the Kosher Label: What’s Permitted
All ingredients in every product must be certified for orthodox kosher-compliance too. Products that don’t contain any animal byproducts are easier to certify.
- Kosher meat must come from an animal that chews its cud and has split hooves. (Cows, sheep and goats are kosher; rabbits, kangaroos and fox are not)
- Kosher fowl are identified by a universally accepted tradition and include the domesticated species of chickens, Cornish hens, ducks, geese, and turkeys. The Torah names the species of fowl that are forbidden, including all predatory and scavenger birds.
- Animal and fowl must be slaughtered with precision and examined by a skilled shochet, an individual extensively trained in the rituals kosher slaughtering. They are placed on a salting table to draw out blood on both side for an hour afterward.
- Dairy must come from a kosher animal
- All ingredients must be kosher and free of meat derivatives. (Conventional rennet, gelatin, etc., are of animal origin and may not be used in kosher dairy.)
- Foods may lose their pareve status if processed on meat or dairy equipment or when additives are used. Pure Chocolate, cookies and other snacks may not be processed with meat or meaty foods unless they are certified pareve.
- All products that grow in the soil or on plants, bushes, or trees are kosher. However, all insects and animals that have many legs or very short legs are not kosher. Consequently, vegetables, fruits and other products infested with such insects must be checked and the insects removed.
- Eggs must be checked for the presence of blood spots, which are not kosher.
- Fish with skin or scales is permitted: tuna, salmon, and herring
- Grape juice must be kosher
- Kosher wine only, because conventional wine uses animal byproducts
The Halal Certification Authority (HCA) is the governing body for halal foods. Halal refers to what is permissible or lawful in traditional islamic law (opposite = haram). Mashbooh means doubtful, questionable or unclear foods. Muslims are supposed to make efforts to obtain the best quality nutritionally. It is mentioned in a hadith that the prayer of a person is rejected by Allah if the food consumed is prohibited.
Halal Food Ethics
The method of animal slaughter they use is designed to reduce pain/distress an animal suffering. The slaughterer must be a sane adult muslim and they must say the name of “God” before making the cut. The knife must be free of blemishes.
- Tasmiah (the name of Allah) is invoked just before or during the act of slaughtering.
- Slaughter is important. The knife should be extremely sharp and the cut should be a continuous cut to the throat with a sharp knife
- The animal must have been fed a natural diet that did not contain animal by-products.
- The cut must sever at least three of the trachea, esophagus and two blood vessels
- The cut must leave the spinal cord untouched
- The animal must be hung upside down and allowed to bleed dry. Eating blood is not halal.
- The animal to be slaughtered must be permissible, which mean no pork, insects, carrion, etc.
- Certain types of stunning can be used, but the animal must not die as a result of stunning.
- The animals must be alive, in good health, and treated humanely before slaughter in accordance with sharia law
- Animals must never see other animals being killed
- Animals must never see a knife being sharpened
- Animals must be comfortable
- These steps must be accomplished by a Muslim who swears to adhere to these rules.
- Certain types of mechanical slaughter can be used, under strict supervision by Muslim slaughterman. Makeup wearers, beware: carmine, keratin, oleic acid, lanolin alcohol and gelatin, animal fat (glycerin) are not halal.
What’s Not In Halal Foods
Designated machinery must be only for halal foods and there cannot be any contamination with porcine or non-Halal goods. Makeup wearers who are from the Islamic faith must also look for the Halal certification because makeup products do have animal byproducts in them as well. The following substances are prohibited:
- Alcohol/intoxicants. Halal does not allow food products or consumables to contain any alcohol whatsoever whereas kashrut, the Jewish dietary guideline, can allow for this exception.
- Non-halal animal fat/shortening/tallow
- Gelatin (fish is okay)
- l-cysteine (from human hair)
- Anything containing pig byproducts
- Meat broth unspecified
- Rennet (synthetic)
- Carnivorous animals, bird of prey
Mamavation Brand Recommendations!
Organic Approved Brands
Mamavation has numerous posts about the benefits of organic food. If you are interested in the safest and healthiest organic snacks, we have the top 50 organic snack here. Some examples below.
Grassfed Approved Brands
Mamavation recommends ButcherBox as a way to get grassfed beef, pastured chicken and heritage pork and bacon to your door every month. ButcherBox is offering Mamavation readers a deal on their first box of 2 Free Filet Mignon (2x6oz) + Free Bacon + $10 off. Click here if you would like to see more from ButcherBox. ButcherBox also has wild-caught fish from Alaska as well.
Kosher Approved Brands
Halal Approved Brands