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Organic Labeling Unraveled
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Organic Labeling Unraveled



Shauna Davis

Hey there foodies! Let’s discuss something that can be a little confusing but super important: organic labeling. 

Organic labeling is a big deal and if you don’t know the difference between the labels and what they mean you could be purchasing items you think are one thing but are actually another. Organic labeling means that the food you are buying was produced without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or other chemicals. Those things are a big deal for your health and the environment.

Where it can get confusing is in the different levels of organic labeling. For example, you may see products labeled “100% organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic ingredients.” Let’s break down what these labels actually mean.

“100% organic” means that all of the ingredients in the product are certified organic. That’s right, every single ingredient. That’s as organic as it gets. Unless of course you go pick the item yourself from a local organic farm which sounds wonderful!

“Organic” means that at least 95% of the ingredients in the product are certified organic. The remaining 5% can be non-organic ingredients and are approved by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). 

“Made with organic ingredients” means that at least 70% of the ingredients in the product are certified organic. The remaining 30% can be non-organic ingredients that are approved by the NOP.

Now that we have that squared away, you’re probably thinking, “how do I know if these labels are actually truthful?” Great question! In order to use the organic label, products must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. These agents inspect farms and processing facilities to ensure that they are following the USDA’s organic standards. 

In order for a farm to label their products as organic, they must go through a rigorous certification process that is regulated by the NOP. 

The certification process begins with the farm submitting an application to the USDA-accredited certifying agent. The certifying agent will then conduct an inspection of the farm to ensure that it meets the USDA’s organic standards. The standards cover a range of factors including:

  • Soil and crop management: The farm must use practices that maintain or improve soil fertility and protect water quality. Such practices can be crop rotation, cover cropping, and the use of compost and natural fertilizers.

  • Pest and disease management: The farm must use practices that prevent or control pests and diseases using methods such as crop rotation, biological controls, and as a last resort, the use of approved organic pesticides.

  • Livestock management: If the farm raises livestock, it must provide them with access to the outdoors, organic feed, and prohibit the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

  • Processing and handling: If the farm processes or handles organic products, it must use equipment and methods that do not contaminate the organic products with non-organic substances.

After the initial inspection, the certifying agent will review the farm’s application and inspection reports to determine if it meets the USDA’s organic standards. If everything checks out, the farm will be granted organic certification and will be able to label their products as organic. 

The certification process doesn’t end there. Certified organic farms must undergo annual inspections to ensure that they continue to meet the USDA’s organic standards. And if a farm is found to be in violation of the standards, they risk losing their organic certification.

So, are foods that are labeled as organic really organic?

In theory, yes, foods that are labeled as organic are really organic. The process of getting organic certified is rigorous, but it ensures the farms are meeting strict standards for organic production. However, it is important to note that there is always a risk of fraud in the food industry. If you’re ever in doubt about the organic labeling on a product, you can check the USDA’s Organic Integrity Database to verify the certification.

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