What does an organic label mean?

At Market of Choice, one of the many choices you’ll discover is the option to purchase organic products, including produce, beef and poultry, and many other foods and beverages, from cereal to dairy products.

What is organic?

Organic refers not only to the food itself, but also to how it is produced and processed. This type of food production is based on a system of farming that mimics natural ecosystems and maintains and replenishes the fertility and nutrients of the soil. Organic production integrates cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Organic foods are produced without the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation.

The National Organic Program is a federal regulatory program that develops and enforces uniform national standards for organically produced agricultural products sold in the United States.

What are the labeling categories for organic products?

There are four distinct labeling categories for organic products: 100% organic, organic, “made with” organic ingredients, and specific organic ingredients.

  • 100% Organic: Products must be made up of 100% certified-organic ingredients. The label must include the name of the certifying agent and may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the 100% organic claim.
  • Organic: The product and ingredients must be certified organic, except where specified on National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. Non-organic ingredients allowed per the National List may be used, but no more than 5% of the combined total ingredients may contain non-organic content. Additionally, the label must include the name of the certifying agent and may include the USDA Organic Seal and/or the organic claim.
  • Made with Organic: At least 70% of the product must be certified-organic ingredients. The organic seal cannot be used, and the final product cannot be represented as organic – only up to three ingredients or ingredient categories can be represented as organic. Any remaining ingredients are not required to be organically produced but must be produced without excluded methods (genetic engineering). All non-agricultural products must be allowed on the National List. For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.
  • Specific Organic Ingredients: Multi-ingredient products with less than 70 percent certified-organic content and don’t need to be certified. These products cannot display the USDA Organic Seal or use the word “organic” on the principal display panel. They can, however, list certified-organic ingredients in the ingredient list and the percentage of organic ingredients.

Are organic products traced from start to finish?

Tracing organic products from start to finish is part of the USDA organic promise. Organic certification requires that farmers and handlers document their processes and get inspected every year. Organic on-site inspections account for every component of the operation, including, but not limited to, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems, inputs, contamination and commingling risks and prevention and record-keeping.

Are Oregon Tilth standards different than USDA standards?

Prior to 2002, organic certifiers each had their own standards that they used when certifying organic produce and products. The standards were similar, but they were each different and were owned by the certifier. In 2002, the USDA National Organic Program took effect, and the NOP Final Rule became the one standard used for certifying organic products in the U.S. Since that time, when you pick up a product labeled organic you know that it was certified to the same standard as all other organic products, regardless of who certified it.

Is organic produce from outside the U.S. certified to the same standard?

Yes, products that are sold as certified organic in the U.S., regardless of what country they originate from, are certified to the USDA National Organic Program standard. This means that they are inspected annually, are subject to unannounced inspections and must respond to non-compliances in a timely manner, just like U.S.-based farms and processors.

Learn more about USDA organic standards and get answers to more commonly asked questions about consumer labeling. To learn even more, read about crop standards, livestock and poultry standards, and handling standards here.

Published On: December 1st, 2020

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