Courtesy of Queens Health Emporium

Organic Labeling Guidelines

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) defines organic as follows:

Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled "organic," a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.

Labeling Guidelines
Under The USDA's National Organic Program

These regulated labels began appearing on your grocer's shelves in October 2002.
  • 100% Organic: These foods must contain, excluding water and salt, only organically produced ingredients. The USDA seal can be used on these packages.

  • Organic: These foods must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients, excluding water and salt. The USDA seal can be used on these packages.

  • Made with organic ingredients: Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use this phrase and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. The USDA seal cannot be used on these packages, but the percentage of organic content and the certifier's seal or mark may be used. The nonorganic ingredients (30 percent or less) may not be genetically engineered or include other prohibited methods such as irradiation or fertilization with sewage sludge. Products made with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can only identify organic ingredients in the ingredient statement and cannot use the USDA organic seal or a certifier's seal or mark.

  • Transitional: The "transitional organic" label is not allowed under the national organic rule at this time. In the past, this label has been used to signify that a farmer is using organic methods but hasn't reached the three-year pesticide-free requirement. Under the new rule, however, the USDA is not allowing it. Some organic advocates support a transitional label, saying it can help farmers make the switch to organic methods by offering them access to a premium market, and are asking the USDA to reconsider this portion of the labeling guidelines.