Understanding Organics: Labeling & Certification
What is organic certification?
The certified organic label is the consumer's guarantee the product has been produced according to the USDA's specific national standards for farmers and food handling organizations.
All these standards must be met for certification:
How can I tell whether food has met the USDA's national standards for organic food?
Along with the national organic standards, the USDA has developed strict new labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. The USDA organic seal, increasingly common after October 2002, indicates a product is at least 95% organic.
Use of the seal is voluntary, however, farmers who knowingly sell a product labeled organic that fails to meet USDA standards can be fined up to $10,000 for each violation.
What about foods with more than one ingredient?
There are four categories for organic foods with more than one ingredient. The first three categories prohibit any ingredients produced using genetic engineering, irradiation, or sewage sludge.
The actual percent of organic content may be displayed on all products, regardless of label category. However, the rule specifies the actual dimensions that are allowed in displaying the content, and, as noted earlier, the percentage for products with less than 70% organic ingredients can only be displayed in the information panel. In all four labeling categories, the product cannot use both organic and non-organic versions of the same ingredient.
Note that labels may also make other truthful claims about their food content, such as "natural," "free-range," and "hormone-free," but these claims are not interchangeable with "organic." For more on organic meat labeling, see Understanding Organics: Meat & Poultry.
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