Certification and Labeling of Organic Foods

According to regulations set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic foods must come from farms or ranches certified by a state or private agency that has been accredited by the USDA. Foods labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organically produced ingredients, excluding water and salt. Foods labeled "organic" must contain, by weight, at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients. Products meeting these requirements must display these terms on their principal display panel and may use the USDA seal and the seal or mark of certifying agents on packages and in advertisements. Foods labeled "made with organic ingredients" must contain, by weight, at least 70 percent organic ingredients. Up to three separate organic ingredients may be listed on the principal display label, and a certifying agent's seal or mark may be used on the package. The use of a USDA seal is prohibited, however. Livestock can be certified "organic" if they have been raised on organic foodstuffs for over one year.

Other labeling provisions include:

  • Packaging of any product labeled "organic" must state the actual percentage of organic ingredients and use the word "organic" to modify each organically produced ingredient.
  • The name and address of the certifying agent must be displayed on the label's information panel.
  • There are no restrictions on the use of truthful labeling claims, such as "pesticide free," "no drugs or growth hormones used," or "sustainably harvested."
  • Products made with less than 50 percent organic ingredients may make no claim other than designating specific organic ingredients with the ingredient information.

Over ninety private organizations and state agencies (certifying agents) currently accredit farms that produce organic food, but standards for growing and labeling organic food may differ. For example, different agencies may permit or prohibit the use of specific natural pesticides or fertilizers in growing organic food. In addition, some of the language contained on seals, labels, and logos approved by organic certifiers may differ.

Science has not proven any nutritional difference between organically grown foods and conventionally grown foods. However, the methods employed by organic farmers may be more sustainable in the long term than conventional farming. [Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.]

Science has not proven any nutritional difference between organically grown foods and conventionally grown foods. However, the methods employed by organic farmers may be more sustainable in the long term than conventional farming. [Photograph by Robert J. Huffman. Field Mark Publications. Reproduced by permission.]

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