Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks


Juliette's Kitchen - November 2002

What Consumers Should Know About the New USDA Organic Labeling Standard

by Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac.
Contact and Appearance Information: 212-894-0767

Thanks to grassroots lobbying efforts over many years on behalf of organic food producers and consumers, the USDA has finally developed organic labeling standards. The most essential fact consumers should be aware of is that there are, not one, but four distinct categories for labeling. For instance, just because a product says, "Made with Organic Ingredients" does not mean the product is made entirely of organic ingredients or without genetically modified organisms (GMO's).

Food manufacturers will voluntarily begin labeling Organic food products based on strict new standards issued from the USDA. Voluntary labeling means food producers do not have to label products as organic. But for food producers that chose to fraudulently label products will face a hefty fine of $10,000 for each violation.

The Definition of Organic food according to the USDA

"Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; petroleum- based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers; bio-engineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled organic, a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too."

Here's what consumers should look for. The following information is taken from the USDA web site

Packaged Food

Look at package labels and watch for signs in the supermarket as well as the national organic standards, USDA developed strict labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. The USDA Organic seal also tells you that a product is at least 95 percent organic.

single-ingredient Foods

Look for the word Organic and a small sticker version of the USDA Organic seal on vegetables or pieces of fruit. Or they may appear on the sign above the organic produce display.

The word Organic and the seal may also appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods.

Natural vs. Organic

The USDA also wants consumers to be aware that the word Natural is not interchangeable with Organic. "Other truthful claims, such as free-range, hormone-free, and natural, can still appear on food labels. However, don't confuse these terms with organic. Only food labeled organic has been certified as meeting USDA organic standards."

The Categories

1. "100 percent organic" and "organic"

Products labeled "100 percent organic" have got to contain only organically produced ingredients, excluding water and salt.

Products labeled as "organic" must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

Products meeting the requirements for "100 percent organic" and "organic" may display these terms and the percentage of organic content on their principal display panel.

The USDA seal and the seal or mark of involved certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.

Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.

2. "Made with organic ingredients"

Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may be labeled either "soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots," or "soup made with organic vegetables."

Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.

The percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the principal display panel. However, the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.

3.Processed products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients

These products cannot use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel.

4.Other labeling provisions

  • Any product labeled as organic must identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel.
  • The name and address of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel.
  • There are no restrictions in this final rule on use of other truthful labeling claims such as "no drugs or growth hormones used," "free range," or "sustainably harvested."

In short, remember to look for the USDA organic seal and as always read the ingredients labels to be sure you are purchasing what you think you are purchasing.

Join the PulseMed mailing list Email:
Join the PulseMed mailing list
All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.
Copyright 1999-2074, Pulse Media International