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Organic 101: "Organic" in the Brand Name...Organic in the Package

Posted by Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program in Food and Nutrition Farming Trade
Oct 23, 2014
By clarifying expectations for organic certifiers, USDA’s instruction ensures that all organic products are labeled consistently, assure consumers that all organic labeling requirements are being met and provide a fair market for all organic operations.
By clarifying expectations for organic certifiers, USDA’s instruction ensures that all organic products are labeled consistently, assure consumers that all organic labeling requirements are being met and provide a fair market for all organic operations.
This is the nineteenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

When consumers see the word "organic" on a product package or label, they have expectations about what is inside the package.  The National Organic Program (NOP), part of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), protects the integrity of the organic label by ensuring that organic producers and handlers meet consumer expectations.  The NOP recently published an instruction that will bring more clarity to products with brand names containing the word "organic."

Organic products have strict production and labeling requirements.  They must be produced and handled by operations that are certified as complying with the USDA organic regulations; made without the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge; and use substances allowed by the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).

Organic products can be labeled differently depending on the percentage of organic ingredients that they contain.  There are three distinct labeling categories for organic products:

  • 100 Percent Organic - Agricultural products in the "100 percent organic" category contain only ingredients that are certified organic, including any processing aids.
  • Organic - Agricultural products in the "organic" category must contain no less than 95 percent of certified organic ingredients (excluding salt and water).  The remaining five percent of ingredients must be organically produced, unless commercially unavailable or allowed on the National List.
  • "Made With" Organic - Multi-ingredient agricultural products in the "made with" category contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients (excluding salt and water).  Any remaining agricultural products are not required to be organically produced, but must be produced without excluded methods – for example, genetic engineering.

Two main product label parts are involved with organic labeling. The principal display panel (PDP) portion of the package is what consumers most likely see at the time of purchase. The information panel includes the list of ingredients contained in a product and other product information.

Products that are "100 percent organic" or "organic" may display the USDA organic seal anywhere on their product label and can display brand names that contain the word "organic" on their PDP as long they meet all labeling requirements.  Otherwise, agricultural products that are not "100 percent organic" or "organic" may display company names containing the term "organic" only as part of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor statement required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the information panel.

This labeling difference allows consumers to easily distinguish between "100 percent organic" and "organic" products and products that are either labeled as "made with organic (specified ingredients or food groups)" or are not certified organic.

This distinction also helps consumers shop with confidence.  Whenever a brand name containing the word "organic" is on a product's PDP, the product must comply with the USDA organic regulations.  Additionally, organic producers and handlers can be assured that their competitors are not gaining an unfair advantage in the marketplace by using a misleading brand name on products that do not meet the USDA organic regulations.

This is not a new requirement, but it clarifies the expectations for certifiers who review and approve organic product labels, ensuring that organic producers and handlers follow the USDA organic regulations.  This instruction will help certifiers interpret and apply the organic labeling rules consistently and fairly across the board.

Another example of NOP's commitment to organic integrity, this clarification will ensure that all organic products are labeled consistently, assure consumers that organic labeling requirements are being met and provide a fair market for all organic operations.  You can learn more about organic labeling on our website.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Farming Trade

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Comments

Direct Seeding
Oct 24, 2014

I wish there were more awareness around the different classifications of organic. The general public would benefit from truly knowing what is considered 100% Organic, Organic, and "Made with Organic". Thank you for this blog post, I will be posting it on social media!

Betty Jo Chang
Oct 29, 2014

re: "They must be produced and handled by operations that are certified as complying with the USDA organic regulations;"

It is my understanding that tho use of the USDA ORGANIC label requires CERTIFICATION, the term ORGANIC may be used by those farmers who comply with NOP regulations but whose gross revenue from products labeled ORGANIC is less than $5000 / year, so long as such farmers register with their State Organic Program.

Please clarify your assertion regarding CERTIFICATION

Keith Freitas
Oct 29, 2014

I think the nobility of the effort is validated, but without "at site versifiers" that would "bullet proof" the self entrusted governance, I think your asking for more than what a label standard can insure. Patch Work Orange ! Is an excellent example of what not to do ! Patches just delay the ultimate fix, and I just do not know what the ultimate fix would be to develop a system that need's not to depend upon it's on self policing to give it credence and credibility.

There is a tremendous amount of "system gaming" and out right cheating going on in the organic growers world, for the consumer just to put their trust in a label..... Until a system develops into a fool proof silver bullet for determining if your purchasing true organics comes along I think that the "direct farmer/consumer relationship" is about the best model at hand.

Ben Weaver
Oct 30, 2014

@Betty Jo Chang - thanks for the comment and questions. If your farm or business' gross agricultural income from organic sales is $5,000 or less per year, it is considered an "exempt" operation. This means you don't need to be certified to sell, label, or represent your products as organic. However, you must follow all other requirements in the USDA organic regulations including:

Maintain records for at least three years.
Not use the USDA organic seal on your products or refer to them as certified organic. If you would like to use the USDA organic seal, pursue organic certification.
Meet other USDA organic labeling requirements.
Not sell your products as ingredients for use in someone else's certified organic product.
Register with the California Department of Food and Agriculture if your farm is in California.

Learn more at: <a href="http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5099113&quot; rel="nofollow">Do I Need To Be Certified Organic</a>

Natalie Gehr
Nov 16, 2014

I agree with this article in regards to food products needing to be labeled as to what "organic" truly means. This also makes me think of the recent Oregon measure that unfortunately did not pass, labeling of GMO free foods. I wish that had been passed because the average shopper will sometimes not understand what organic or GMO means, and they should before purchasing the food. I read someone else's comment and it is true, there is "cheating" going on in the world of organic foods. I personally read labels and ingredients even if it does say organic because I feel as though people will put the word "organic" on anything these days. It is too loosely used. Therefore, natural grocery stores should go beyond labeling there foods just organic because they are the true manufacturers and if their foods are organic they should be selling it even more.

Bruce_H
Jun 13, 2016

I understand that organic products must be produced in compliance with USDA organic regulations and that these include making products "without the use of genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge".

Does "ionizing radiation" here mean ionizing radiation used as a mutagen during breeding?

Shaka
Sep 18, 2017

I've been buying and paying a premium in a local grocery store in Los Angeles for organic grains, pulses and other Products from this company called http://www.24mantra.com. It says organic on the packaging. Is there a way to know if an imported product is organic?

Nam Nguyen
Jan 24, 2018

Hello, I ran across a new product and they have the label "Organic" on it by itself. No "USDA" or anything. Is this trustworthy? And if they are not qualified to do so, is it possible for people to just put or claim "Organic" on their product? Thanks!

Christina C
Feb 22, 2018

If I am buying a product wholesale that says certified organic and then reselling that product. Am I allowed to put the same certified organic label on my product under my business name. ?

Dory Johnson
Mar 08, 2018

Good morning. I am looking into ideas for organic packaging to be sure once we decide to get certified, we have organic certified packaging measures in place. i'M HOPING YOU CAN POINT ME IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION AS I'VE BEEN LOOKING THRU THE WEB AND YOUR SITE FOR HOURS AND CANNOT SEEM TO FIND THIS INFORMATION. we will potentially be packaging produce, root vegetables, rhizomes, etc. I'm also looking for what we need to include on labeling for packaging and shipping if need be. Any and all direction you possibly provide will be greatly appreciated! Thank you.
Dory

Ben Weaver
Mar 09, 2018

@Christina C - thank you for your comment. Packaging organic agricultural products and labeling for retail distribution is a processing/handling function that requires certification under the USDA organic regulations. For additional information, please view the Do I Need to Be Certified Organic? fact sheet.