The organic world and acceptance of organic food is growing.  Many retailers and their customer demands for these products are now the accepted new norm.  Small local markets are now competing with large retailers, own labels and clever marketing of signs, new store layouts and label bins.  The reason being that organic is “simple” to understand.  The organic product is called “pure” or “clean”. This is because the methods used to grow the agriculture and care for the livestock cannot use toxic or persistent chemicals. They cannot be irradiated, fertilized with sludge or genetically modified which is often referred to as GMO. 

Many health studies have been conducted that show that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher nutrition value. Interesting how they have “less in them” due to the omitting of what can be added to make the apple trees produce shinier and bigger apples. Increasing the volume produced, speeding up the process and increasing the size not only affects the nutrition value of the apple but often the taste. 

Understanding Organic Labeling

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established three criteria to organic labeling for the consumer.

  1. 100% Organic 
  2. Organic
  3. Made with Organic 

Each of the three categories has specific ranges of purity that must be met.  

100% Organic is stating that the product only contains certified organic ingredients. These are easily identified by the USDA Organic label. Only certified organic products can place this label on their product.  In some cases their products and services have not chosen to place the logo on their product. In others, perhaps their product is not packaged and therefore does not have the visible labeling. 

Our databases of products have been researched and have met the qualifications of the USDA to be a Certified Organic Product. The services and business that we have in our database use certified organic products.

Organic is the term used for products that are made up of 99-95% certified organic ingredients and they too can use the USDA Organic labeling. 

Made with “Organic” are products that created from 94-70% of certified organic ingredients. They cannot use the USDA Organic labeling but you will often see “Organic” on their label or “Made with Organic”.

There are several requirements that a product must meet to wear the USDA label. 

100% pure allows zero non-organic ingredients. While processing the product they must use 100% processing aids. If the product is Organic they must have at least 95% organic ingredients. The remaining percent can be non-organic allowed ingredients.  The products that state “Made by Organic Ingredients” includes at least 70% organic ingredients and the remaining 30% can be both non-organic allowed ingredients and non organic agricultural ingredients. 

Source: “Labeling Organic Products”, USDA Agriculture Marketing Services.

Organic Certification

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) is the certifying agency that created, administers and monitors regulations. They verify that a farm or a handler processing/manufacturing facility meets the standards and is in compliance with all regulations.  A farmer or handler can be certified by any of the following, provided they are accredited by the USDA:

  • Private Certifying Agent
  • Foreign Agent
  • State Level Agency 

These agents are responsible for validating that the products meet all of the organic standards established by the USDA NOP. 

There are four types of USDA NOP certifications and all producers and processors must meet the individual standards based on their certification. They are:

  • Crops-Plants for harvesting such as food, livestock feed, fiber and used to add nutrients to the fields
  • Livestock-Animals used for food or in the productions of food, fiber and/or feed.
  • Wildcrops-Plant from a growing site that is not cultivated. 
  • Processing products-Handling, processing and packaging of products. 

How to Become Certified

There is a 36 month waiting period know as the transition period in order to quality as a certified operation. 

A farmer and handler must submit to USDA accredited certifying agent the following information:

  • Detailed Description of the operation
  • Substances applied to the land during a 36 month period
  • Organic products grown, raised and processed
  • Organic System Plan stating in detail the practices and substances to be used.

Certifications are subject to the following:

  • Fees
  • Reviews
  • On-site Inspections
  • Annual Recertification

To learn more about the process visit the Industry side of the Organic Assistant. 

Organic products and services that use organic products such as cotton in clothing, hair products in salons, chefs, etc. have adapted the Organic practice, understanding “Less is More”.