Shop smart, understand organic labels
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
The organic industry is booming, and that’s good news. Global organic sales have grown from $18 billion in 2000 to $105 billion in 2018 (The Organic and Non-GMO Report). At the same time, consumers need to educate themselves to make informed buying decisions.
Photo Aja Koska - iStock
To shop smart, here’s what you need to know:
Organic certification has rigorous standards in the USA, set by the USDA. Check first for the official USDA Organic Seal, which certifies that the product is 95-100 percent organic. The official seal can be green and white, green and white with a brown outer circle, or black and white.
“No current label is as all-encompassing as USDA Certified Organic,” according to the Rodale Institute. “If you purchase a product with the USDA Organic Seal, you can be assured that item was produced without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, and that it is GMO-free.”
There are four categories:
1. 100 percent organic
2. 95-100 percent organic
3. at least 70 percent organic, “made with organic ***”
4. less than 70 percent organic, “specific organic ingredients”
• 100 percent organic: Must be 100 percent certified organic ingredients. Uses the USDA Organic Seal and/or the 100 percent organic statement.
• 95-100 percent organic: Uses the USDA Organic Seal. No more than five percent of the ingredients can be non-organic, and these ingredients must be allowed as per USDA guidelines.
• at least 70 percent organic, “made with organic ***”: If a product contains at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients and up to 30 percent of allowed non-organic ingredients, the USDA Organic Seal cannot be used and the final product cannot be represented as organic. A label that specifies the organic ingredients is allowed, e.g. “made with organic oats and cranberries,” but the generic statement “made with organic ingredients” is not allowed. A maximum of three ingredients (or ingredient categories) can be represented as organic. GMO’s are not allowed in these products.
• less than 70 percent organic, “specific organic ingredients”: What if a product claims it is made with organic ingredients but is less than 70 percent certified organic? These products cannot use the USDA Organic Seal or display a claim of organic, but are allowed to list individual certified organic ingredients with a percentage of those ingredients.
The USDA Organic Seal label is the reliable certification to look for.
Global organic food sales topped $100 billion in 2018, have grown 483 percent since 2000. The Organic and Non-GMO Report. May 2, 2019. https://non-gmoreport.com/articles/global-organic-food-sales-topped-100-billion-in-2018-have-grown-483-percent-since-2000/
No, the Organic Label is Not a Marketing Scam. Rodale Institute. April 30, 2019. https://rodaleinstitute.org/blog/no-the-organic-label-is-not-a-marketing-scam/?utm_source=popup&utm_campaign=truthaboutorganic
Understanding the USDA Organic Label. USDA. February 21, 2017. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label
Organic 101: Understanding the “Made With Organic Label. USDA. February 21, 2017. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2014/05/16/organic-101-understanding-made-organic-label