Understanding Organic Labels

Back in 2010 I blogged about the different levels of organic food labeling. Since then buying organic has become the norm. However, I don’t think people still truly understand the different tiers of organic food that there are. So that yogurt that you’re holding, that claims to be organic, may in fact not be what it claims. I think it’s time to go over this information again. Never hurts to be reminded, right?

I had already finished this article and I deleted it and started again. Why? Because organic is not so simple to comprehend and I wanted the information to be as plain as possible to understand. That’s when I ran into an article on Lifehacker.com. They put together a great piece that explains it as easy as possible. Let me share with you.


The word “Organic”

This is the biggie among food labels, and one of the most controversial. It’s a word that sounds black and white—either it grew up naturally and was brought to you without chemicals, hormones, pesticides, or radiation, or it didn’t, you’d think. But under federal law, any product with “organic” anywhere on its packaging or display materials must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

To qualify as organic, those ingredients can’t contain, or be produced with, any of the following: chemical, additives, synthetics, pesticides, or genetically engineered substances. That’s the stated law, but, as you might imagine, those criteria can be subject to interpretation, and the USDA’s regulation of the “organic” label has come under questioning.

That said, there are different grades of organic labeling in the U.S. Here’s how the Washington Post breaks down the differences:

  • 100 Percent Organic: Products must show an ingredient list, the name and address of the handler (bottler, distributor, importer, manufacturer, packer, processor) of the finished product, and the name and seal of the organic certifier. These products should contain no chemicals, additives, synthetics, pesticides or genetically engineered substances.
  • USDA Organic: Products must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The five percent non-organic ingredients could include additives or synthetics if they are on an approved list. The label must contain a list that identifies the organic, as well as the non-organic, ingredients in the product, and the name of the organic certifier.
  • Made With Organic: Products must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The label must contain a list that identifies the organic, as well as the non-organic, ingredients in the product, along with the name of the organic certifier.

They go into a deeper explanation of those other labels we normally see on food packaging such as Natural, and Grass-fed. You should certainly check out this article. Pretty fascinating and educational.

According to Organic.org, we should also keep in mind that even if a producer is certified organic, the use of the USDA Organic label is voluntary. At the same time, not everyone goes through the rigorous process of becoming certified, especially smaller farming operations. When shopping at a farmers’ market, for example, don’t hesitate to ask the vendors how your food was grown.

If you require further information, check out the Labeling Organic Products Guide from the USDA.

If you have anything to add or share, sound off below. Educating yourself is the only way to make better decisions while we go food shopping.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jessica Kim says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog and found this! Precisely what I needed. Thanks. 😊

    1. Dee Shore says:

      You’re very welcome. I hope all the information was simple and clear to understand.

  2. Glory Bourdier says:

    Reblogged this on Glory Bourdier.

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