Organic labeling is closely regulated by the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program. Understanding these labels can help you shop for products that offer the benefits of organic production.
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“Natural” does not equal “Organic“!
Look for this seal—it means you are buying a product that has met rigorous standards. It can be used only on products that meet guidelines in the first two categories below.
100% Organic: All ingredients and processing methods have been certified organic. The farms where the ingredients were grown or raised and any processing facilities that handled the product have been inspected by a government-approved certifier to ensure national organic standards have been met.
Organic: At least 95% of the ingredients (excluding water and salt) have been certified organic. The remaining 5% must be on the National List of allowed substances in organic production.
Made with Organic [ingredient]: This label is used on multi-ingredient foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients (excluding water and salt). The remaining 30% cannot be irradiated, genetically engineered or grown using sewage sludge. Also, the product cannot contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. While products in this category cannot display the USDA organic seal, they are certified organic and go through the same rigorous organic inspection and review as the other two categories.
Other Facts about Organic Products
“Organic Produce” must be free of genetic modification (no GMOs). It must be certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance, the substance must be approved for use in organic production. In addition, organic produce cannot be irradiated, or grown using sewage sludge.
“Organic Meat” is from animals that are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not given antibiotics or hormones. Organic livestock are fed 100% organic feed plus organic vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy.
Labels must state the phrase “Certified organic by (name of certifying agency).” This is usually on the nutrition information panel. The label also must identify the processor or distributor of the finished product.
While products that are 95-100% organic may display the USDA seal, that is not mandatory. Some may choose another label to verify organic status.