Organic Foods and Labels: What You Should Know When Buying Organic Productsby Laurie Gunning Grossman
Are you the kind of woman who likes her food free of antibiotics, pesticides, hormones, irradiation or bioengineering? Let’s hear it for organic! But, do you ever wonder just how “organic” is your organic food? Fear no more, but understand that there is a little give and take with the term “organic”. Read on…
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has your back, mama – they have very specific standards for using the term “organic.” They’re not going to let any food out there fool you. “Organic” is not just about the food, it’s also about how the food is produced. Any farms or processing operations that “grow and process organic agricultural products must be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents.” (Operations exempt from these requirements: Those whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less, such as some the farmers you see at smaller farmers’ market.) And organic food must meet the regulations of the National Organic Program (NOP). The NOP claims that organic farming should included methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity, free of synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. And organic livestock should not have any antibiotics or growth hormones. Still, when you’re out shopping, you’ll notice on labels that there are varying degrees on the term “organic”. Here’s what you should know:
“100 Percent Organic” and “Organic”
According to the USDA, agricultural products labeled as “100% organic” must only contain organically produced ingredients and processing aids (water and salt excluded). Often these are single ingredient products such as vegetables, fruit, meat, cheese and milk. Products with the “organic” label must contain at least 95%-100% organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt as well). These are usually multiple ingredient foods. Only products that meet either the “100 percent organic” or “organic” requirements are allowed to display the “USDA Organic” label. And thankfully, the USDA says that these agricultural products “cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.” Sewage sludge? Yuck. We’ll take these products, please.
“Made with Organic Ingredients”
Products labeled as “made with organic ingredients” must contain 70% organic ingredients. Up to three of the organic ingredients can be displayed on the principal display panel. The USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the packaging. Again, no sewage sludge, excluded methods, or ionizing radiation can be used in the production of processed products labeled “made with organic ingredients.”
“Contains Organic Ingredients”
Any products labeled “contains organic ingredients” contain less than 70% organic ingredients. Therefore, they cannot use the term organic anywhere on its packaging. Yet, they can identify which ingredients are organically produced on their information panel. Now that you’re more in the “organic” know, time to get out to your local grocery store or farmers’ market (with your reusable bags, of course) and get cooking!