Organic Labeling

This post is a follow-up to my post from yesterday, at the request of a friend of mine. Thank you for the suggestion!

Have you ever noticed the different types of organic labels? “100% Organic,” “Organic,” and “Made with Organic Ingredients?” Not to mention, if you read the back paneling, some ingredients are noted as organic on products that don’t have these labels on the front. What’s the difference between these types of labels? How do I know which ones really are organic?

What Does “Organic” Even Mean?

Organic is a term used to describe a food that is grown naturally, with no synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. It means the food is not genetically modified, and it means that the farm helps the environment by not contributing to sewage sludge and irradiation.

Who Certifies Foods “Organic?”

A branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), called the National Organic Program (NOP) regulates the organic industry. They certify agencies to be the watchdogs of the organic market. They inspect everything from the farms to the processors, and even the distributors to make sure everyone is complying.

100% Organic

To get this label and sticker certification from the USDA, this product must be either 100% organic in and of itself (think fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, or cheeses), or must be made out of ALL organic ingredients (apparently, salt and water are not included in this requirement).


To me, this label is a little misleading. It means at least 95% of the ingredients (by weight) are organic. The remaining percentage still need to be approved by the NOP, but simply aren’t available in an organic form. These can have the USDA sticker on them as well.

Made with Organic Ingredients

At least 75% of the ingredients (again, by weight) must be organic, and at least 3 of them must be listed on the ingredients list. These will NOT have the USDA sticker on them.

Other Organic Claims

Some products are made with a couple of organic ingredients, but not enough to qualify for any of the above labeling. Companies are allowed to note organic products on the back, but are not allowed to claim organic labeling on the front of the package.

Keep in mind – getting certification from the USDA and the NOP is expensive, and voluntary. Even if a company goes through the certification process, they may still chose to leave off the labeling (even the labels and stickers can get expensive). Many other companies, especially small family farms and small companies, choose not to go through the certification process, even though they use organic products. This is especially true of Farmer’s Markets and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). If you go to a farmer’s market or get your produce through a CSA, don’t be afraid to ask them how they grow their produce and whether or not they use pesticides and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

Well What About Free Range, Cage Free, and Other Labels On My Food?

There are many other types of labels that might appear on your food. Some are regulated by the USDA, others are not. Here’s the low-down on the most common:

Free Range

Animals have unlimited access to outdoor area, as well as an enclosed area, and unlimited access to food and fresh water. The outdoor area may be enclosed or covered with a netting-like material. This label IS regulated by the USDA.


Animals are able to roam an enclosed area with unlimited access to food and fresh water.


This has nothing to do with how the animals were raised, but rather with how they are PROCESSED before being sent to the consumer. Also, this label only applies to products with meat and/or eggs in them. The USDA regulations require that the animals be minimally processed, and can not have any artificial ingredients.


Animals that are grass-fed get the majority of the Calories and nutrition through grass. This label does not, however, refer to any use of pesticides or hormones on the grass or animals (respectively). Also, organic cows may be raised on a grain diet. The best label to look for with meat? Grass-fed Organic!

Other Labels

Labels like “pasture-raised” and “humane” are simply not regulated by the USDA. Any claims made by these companies are purely voluntary and, as far as I’m concerned, arbitrary.

For more information on the different types of labeling and how these labels are regulated, please visit the USDA NOP website.

Have any questions, comments, or suggestions? Leave me some feedback! I’d love to hear what you think! 🙂


About elizabethanne

I'm 22, living in Southern California, and trying to figure out this crazy thing called life.
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