Defining Organic Food Labels – Clarified Rules and Regulations

Defining Organic Food Labels – Clarified Rules and Regulations

There is a lot of confusion out there about organic food labels.

According to the USDA (United States Department  of Agriculture) National Organic Program, 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. Or without fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge. They are not bio-engineered or exposed to ionizing radiation.

Before a product can be labeled “organic,” a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm. They look 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.

A business or farmer must follow the USDA guidelines and be certified as “Organic” in order to use that label on its products.

Three different types of organic food labels

Defining Organic Food Labels - Clarified Rules and Regulations
Look for the official USDA Organic label

100% Organic – all the ingredients meet the organic standards

Organic – the product is made with at least 95% of the ingredients meeting the standards

Made with Organic Ingredients – 70% of the ingredients must meet the standards with strict restrictions on the remaining 30%, such as no GMOs (growth modified organisms)

Products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients can list the organic ingredients on their label. But they cannot have the word “Organic” on their front label.

The USDA’s Organic seal assures consumers that the business is in compliance with the standards. It shows us that it is a quality product. Companies are inspected annually and there are also random checks to verify standards are being met.

When a farmer completes all the necessary paperwork, passing all the inspections and meets the USDA standards, they are Certified Organic. Food that is Certified Organic is 100% Organic. It is all or nothing!

Defining Organic Food Labels - Clarified Rules and Regulations
Healthy, nutritious, delicious veggies are waiting for you at a local market!

There are many rules a Certified Organic farmer must follow and guidelines to adhere to.

  • The land cannot have any GMOs, treated seeds, synthetic pesticides or herbicides applied to it for 3 years
  • All attempts have to be made to purchase organic seed only
  • Treated lumber cannot touch any soil or seed trays
  • Organic sanitizes have to be used on all harvest tools
  • Proper signage and work processes must be used to ensure organic produce does not come in contact with non-organic foods
  • Records have to be kept to prove crop rotation and attempts to improve the soil have to be documented

As you can see, being labeled “Organic” is not as easy as it seems it should be. There are many rules and regulations to be followed just to earn the right to be called Organic. And then there are the guidelines that must be followed to continue to use organic food labels.

Defining Organic Food Labels - Clarified Rules and Regulations
When at your local market, ask to see proof they are Certified Organic

Ask questions!

Lately I’ve been seeing farmer market vendors claiming that their produce is “Organic”. While they may follow the USDA regulations, it doesn’t mean they can use the USDA Organic label. Technically, they cannot claim to be organic in their sales material or when they speak to shoppers. They must follow the certification process.

A better description for these products would be naturally grown or pesticide free or antibiotic free. Still great descriptions for the farmer’s hard work. And they don’t mislead consumers by using organic food labels.

The key for consumers to is ask questions. Read the label on the package. Don’t just look at the fancy “Organic” word on the package but look for the USDA Organic seal.

Read the ingredients list. My rule is, if I can’t pronounce it chances are very good it’s not organic. Ask the vendor at the market or food stand if they are Certified Organic. They should be able to show you a copy of their certificate.

Lastly, remember that food products grown or raised naturally or pesticide free alone is not considered organic by the USDA standards.


I hope this article helped you understand the difference in organic food labels. If you have have any questions, you can email me through the contact form on the right. Or feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

Enjoy and Be Healthy!

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