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Organic 101: Understanding the “Made with Organic***” Label

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 or other prohibited substances such as most synthetic pesticides.

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.”

4 Responses to “Organic 101: Understanding the “Made with Organic***” Label”

  1. Cin An says:

    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.

  2. j. says:

    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.

  3. Mary Joiner says:

    There is NO evidence that “organic” is better for you.

  4. elizabeth larkin says:

    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.

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