printable article

Originally published September 8 2010

Organic Labels: Know the Meaning of the Different Kinds

by Heidi Fagley

(NaturalNews) The word itself emits a certain energy. But what does it really mean when a product has the word "organic" on it? Or when an entire package is labeled "organic"?

The word "organic" refers to the way foods are produced and handled. Food labels that include the word "organic" mean the food was produced without the use of conventional synthetic pesticides, fungicides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetic engineering or irradiation. When the word "organic" is listed on meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy product packaging, it means the animal received no antibiotics or hormones and it/they were fed organic feed containing no animal by-products. An organic label also means animals had access to the outdoors, though "access" is not specifically defined. There is currently no USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) organic standard for seafood. Salt and water are not included in organic labeling requirements.

The USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) is responsible for the regulation of standards for any farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced. In order to qualify as organic, a food product must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity.

The USDA regulates the use of the word. In order to legally use the term "organic" on a food label, the producer or grower must receive specific product certification by a USDA-accredited certifier. Any person who knowingly labels or sells a product that is non-organic yet listed as "organic" can be fined as much as $11,000 for each violation.

Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product. A product labeled "100% organic" and those labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" have different definitions as follows:

100% Organic - These products contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. By law they can display the USDA Organic seal.

Organic - This term on a label means that these products contain at least 95% organically produced ingredients. The remaining ingredients must be non-agricultural substances that are approved by the NOP. Use of the USDA Organic seal guarantees that at least 95% of the food's ingredients are organic.

Made With Organic Ingredients - Food packaging must contain at least 70% organic ingredients. They may list up to three of these ingredients on the front of the packaging. These products may not legally use the USDA Organic seal.

Additional - In products that have less than 70% organic ingredients, those that are organic can be specified as such on the information panel of the packaging.

Single-Ingredient - Products such as fruits and vegetables may have a small sticker with code numbers that indicate how the produce was grown:

5 digits, starting with 9: produce was grown organically
4 digits, starting with 3 or 4: produce was grown conventionally
5 digits, starting with 8: produce was genetically modified

Organic certification does not necessarily mean the food is completely absent of synthetic substances, only that those used must be from an NOP approved list. Organic farmers use natural pesticides like manure and compost to feed the soil and the birds and insects natural to the environment as a way of reducing pests and disease.

The above stated labeling laws are for all foods sold in the United States, whether grown here or in another country. In addition, make sure to check with your local Farmers Market for specific details about their products. The produce is most likely grown locally, yet not necessarily organically.

About the author

Heidi Fagley is a Holistic Nutritionist and has two culinary arts degrees - one in Raw, Living Foods and another in Natural Foods. Educating others about nutrition and the benefits of using whole foods to heal and prevent disease is her passion.

All content posted on this site is commentary or opinion and is protected under Free Speech. Truth Publishing LLC takes sole responsibility for all content. Truth Publishing sells no hard products and earns no money from the recommendation of products. is presented for educational and commentary purposes only and should not be construed as professional advice from any licensed practitioner. Truth Publishing assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. For the full terms of usage of this material, visit