Shop smart, understand organic labels

November 26, 2019

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.


No, the Organic Label is Not a Marketing Scam. Rodale Institute. April 30, 2019.


Understanding the USDA Organic Label. USDA. February 21, 2017.


Organic 101: Understanding the “Made With Organic Label. USDA. February 21, 2017.



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