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Organic 101: Understanding the "Made with Organic***" Label

Posted by Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program in Food and Nutrition
May 16, 2014
Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.  If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.”  A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.
Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices. If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.” A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.

This is the sixteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Deciphering food labels and marketing claims can be a challenge for the average consumer.  Companies use production and handling claims as a way to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Organic is one label that most consumers are familiar with, but understanding what “organic” really means can help consumers make informed choices.

USDA certified organic products have strict production and labeling requirements.  The U.S. organic industry is regulated by the National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.  Certified organic products are produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).  The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances.

There are four distinct labeling categories for certified organic food products – 100% Organic, Organic, Made with organic ***, and specific organic ingredients.  There are also labeling requirements for organic livestock feed. Today, I wanted to talk more about the “Made with organic***” category.

Multi-ingredient agricultural products in the “Made with organic ***” category must contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients (not including salt or water).  These products may contain up to 30 percent of allowed non-organic ingredients.  All ingredients – including the 30 percent non-organic ingredients – must be produced without GMOs.

If a product meets these requirements, its label may include a statement like, “Made with organic oats and cranberries.”  A more generic statement like, “Made with organic ingredients,” is not allowed.

If an ingredient is identified in the “Made with organic ***” statement, it must be a truthful claim. This means the product can only contain organic forms of that specific ingredient.   For example, if the label states “Made with organic corn” all raw and processed corn-based ingredients—such as blue corn, corn oil, and corn starch—must be certified organic.

The USDA organic regulations provide a set list of “food groups.” All raw and processed forms of ingredients in that food group must be certified organic. For example, if a product states, “Made with organic grains,” all ingredients derived from grains—such as enriched wheat flour, corn oil, or oats—must be certified organic.  If a product contains both organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredient, they must be identified separately in the ingredient statement.

“Made with organic***” products can’t use the USDA organic seal, but must identify the USDA-accredited certifying agent. You can look for the identity of the certifier on a packaged product for verification that the product meets USDA’s organic standards.  Certifying agents are accredited by the USDA, and are responsible for ensuring that the USDA organic products meet or exceed all organic standards.

The NOP recently put out final guidance on this labeling category to ensure consistency in labeling practices throughout the organic industry.  Consumers purchase organic products expecting that they maintain their organic integrity from farm to market, and USDA is committed to meeting these expectations.  Or, as we like to say at NOP, “organic integrity from farm to table, consumers trust the organic label.”

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Comments

Cin An
May 16, 2014

What's missing here is clarity around exclusions and loopholes that do allow for uses of synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, hormones and other inputs organic marketers constantly and misleadingly push linked to cancers and other health claims to prompt consumer to buy higher priced organic. Right now organic fruit tree growers, for example, are spraying their crops with antibiotics to thwart blight. Organic dairy farmers inject their heifers with powerful steroidal hormones to bring them into cycle for antibiotic infused artificial insemination. And the list of 'natural' but highly toxic pesticides used and allowed in organic is long including copper sulfate, rotenone, pyrethrins and other health hazardous chemicals. Many synthetic chemicals are allowed and used in organic farming including: alcohol, chlorine, peracetic acid, sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, ammonium, etc... USDA needs to do a better job informing the public rather than protecting the multi-billion-dollar organic marketing industry.

j.
May 16, 2014

I think this is a misstatement:
"The organic standards are designed to allow natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting synthetic substances."

The NOP only prohibits synthetic substances that are not allowed; some synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and processing aids, ARE allowed. I see this misstatement over and over. Also, there is no LEGAL definition of the term, "natural", and thus is should not be used in a USDA or FDA blog.

Mary Joiner
May 29, 2014

There is NO evidence that "organic" is better for you.

elizabeth larkin
Jul 11, 2014

Organic isn't better for you? That presupposes that the additional load of synthetic chemicals in conventionally grown crops cannot or will not produce cellular irregularities above and beyond what standard biological processes would normally produce. There is plenty of evidence to the contrary, too many to list that would substantiate that. Look a little deeper.

Dieu Nguyen
Jan 27, 2015

If one was interested in applying for the made with organic *** or specific organic ingredients, how would we go about doing so?

natev
Aug 10, 2015

It seems to me that the difficult question is what is synthetic and what is not. Is there a USDA definition of synthetic that you can link?

When I read "organic ***" I like to imagine that some particular ingredient was intended, but that it triggered the censor filter :)

Ben Weaver
Aug 11, 2015

@natev - thanks for your inquiry. <a href="http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=e54cb253aaed1cc6f46fa608f64a04…; rel="nofollow">USDA organic regulations</a> define synthetic as a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources, except that such term shall not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes.

Todd
Oct 29, 2015

Everything by definition comes from the earth and is organic. An attorney will beat this every day of the week. Prove the evidence that shows where anything in a laboratory didn't come straight from Mother Earth. Remember every thing organic was on the ground to put a satellite in space when Jesus was walking around on earth. We just haven't evolved to that point yet.

Mike
Jan 13, 2016

If my business is too small to get certified currently but I'm using certified organic ingredients, can I, in the ingredient list, use the term organic? For example; if I'm making granola and use USDA certified organic oats, can my ingredient list include the term "organic oats, ..."?

Ed
Jan 20, 2016

I am being told that if I make a blend of two ingredients, one being 100% organic (95% of recipe) and the other being "made with organics" (5% of the recipe), the resulting product can only be certified as "made with organics", given the fact that one of the ingredients is under such category. (I must clarify, that the second component is not listed under 205.605/6) Is that so ?

Ben Weaver
Jan 22, 2016

@Mike – thanks for the question. If your business’ gross agricultural income from organic sales is $5,000 or less per year, it is considered an “exempt” operation. Be sure to check out this factsheet for additional information: <a href="http://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Do I Need to Be Certified.pdf" rel="nofollow">Do I Need to Be Certified</a>. You can list <em>certified</em> organic ingredients as organic in the ingredient list.

Jacob from Denmark
Mar 31, 2016

What are USDA requirements for non-eatable organic materials, like fabric?

Can someone legally label their product as "Organic" if it is made with 100% organic ingredients or organic ingredients and you have foreign certification from the manufactures?

If not, then is there another legal labeling that indicates the same to the customer that can be used until you have money to pay for the USDA label?

iluminada61
Aug 06, 2016

I disagree.

Rick Lintag
May 05, 2017

Is the requirement to have the statement "made with organic (specific ingredient)" only for labels or does it cover or include any marketing claims such as catalogs brochures and advertisements? We are having a debate whether to qualify a publicity or look through catalog with headings that would either state" Our Handmade Made with Organic Face Bar" or "Our Handmade Face Bar Made with organic coconut and olive oils"

Andy
May 12, 2017

Hi, Can my company make labels/seals for a product ,that is USDA certified prior to our packaging and processing, not provided by NOP that say "Organic" or "100% Organic" or "Made with USDA Organic"? We work with green coffees and roast them with a number of products that before roasting are 100% organically grown and processed. Would we be able to, legally, use a seal of our own design stating that our ingredients organic?

Anonymous
May 21, 2017

If an individual makes a soap bar, lotion, etc using 100% USDA Certified Organic ingredients. Can they package the manufactured soap & label it as 100% USDA Certified Organic Ingredients w/ a seal? Fyi: ingredients; oils, butters, etc.

And would it make any difference if the individual sold more or less then $5,000.00 annually?

How would a small business/ individual explain on products' labels that 100% of the ingredients are USDA Certified Organic?

Christie Millette
Jun 12, 2017

I'm curious about essential oils. Can foreign crops for essential oils be USDA Certified despite being farmed on foreign soil? Thank you.

Christie Millette
Jun 12, 2017

I'm curious about essential oils. Can foreign crops for essential oils be USDA Certified despite being farmed on foreign soil? Thank you.

Adam
Apr 03, 2018

Where did the extraordinary rule requiring the remaining ingredients (the 30% rule described here) be non-GMO come from? If they aren't organic they should be allowed to use GE seeds. Which entity is charged with enforcing or guaranteeing which seed varieties are used?

Wanda
Jul 23, 2018

I noticed that a lot of essential oil companies label their essential oils, "USDA certified organic". Is this accurate information from your stand point? I did not think you regulate such as most oils come from other countries?

Ben Weaver
Jul 25, 2018

@Wanda - Essential oils extracted from plants are agricultural products. Companies can apply for organic certification to classify their essential oils as USDA-certified organic. Companies with this certification would be listed in the Organic Integrity Database. The same rules apply to anything labeled USDA Organic, regardless of where it is produced. See our fact sheet for more information on Cosmetics, Body Care, and Personal Care Products.