For The Greater Goods (sm)

Organic Food Labeling – A Simple Guide To Organic Labels

Have you ever wondered what the various organic labels mean or if they mean anything at all? Today we’ll take a quick look at organic food labeling and give you just the facts.

USDA Organic Certification Requirements

The United States Department of Agriculture has set certain standards for organic food labeling.  Organic products have strict production and labeling requirements. They are specifically excluded from having genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ionizing radiation or sewage sludge.  That also is a frightening thought – non-organic foods can contain ionizing radiation or sewage sludge apparently. Yuk.

In addition, organic foods cannot have prohibited substances, there’s a national list of those items. You can find it via the link at the bottom of this article. It’s a pretty dull list but interesting nonetheless.

Finally, in order to be certified organic, the product must be certified either by the USDA or by an approved certifying organization such as Oregon Tilth, QAI, CCOF and others.

If a product contains organic ingredients but is not certified, it cannot be labeled as organic on the front panel nor can it display a certified organic seal.  It can list certified organic ingredients in the ingredient list.  If it goes through the certification process, it can use the word “organic” on the label and display the certifying agency’s seal.

Let’s take a look at organic food labeling –

Organic Food Labeling

Image courtesy of USDA National Organic Program

100% Organic

In order for a product to be labeled 100% organic all ingredients must be certified organic, any processing aids used must also be organic, and the certifying agency’s name must be on the information panel.  These products will also often have the USDA Organic Seal on them.

Labeling Organic Products

A product that is labeled as organic must use certified organic products to make up at least 95% of the ingredients.  Non-organic products may be used up to 5% of the product, as long as the non-organic ingredients are not in the prohibited list.  The 5% excludes ingredients that can’t be organic, like water and salt. The certifying agency’s name must be on the information panel.  These products will often have the USDA Organic Seal on them.

Made With Organic Ingredients

A product may be labeled as “Made with Organic Ingredients” as long as at least 70% of the product is made with organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Any remaining agricultural products used in the product need not be organic.  However, they cannot be made with excluded methods (that’s GMOs, the ionizing radiation and sewage sludge). Other non-organic non-agricultural ingredients cannot be on the Prohibited List. The certifying agency’s name must be on the information panel.  These products will not have the USDA Organic Seal.

A product that has less than 70% organic ingredients can still list certified organic ingredients in their information panel.  These products cannot claim their product as organic.

Organic food labeling doesn’t have to be confusing.  Unlike claims like ‘natural’, ‘sustainable’, or ‘eco-friendly’, organic food labeling has a strict set of standards that you can trust.

Organic Food Labeling Resources

National Organic Program/ USDA
Orgeon Tilth

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