USDA Organic Labels: How They All Work & What They Mean

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I ordered a large box of organic natural treats for the kids, like I said I would, and they have arrived!! We are in the process of taste testing them and so far so good. As I went from package to package and was reading the labels, ingredients and doing some comparisons with food I had in the cupboard I noticed some differences when it came to organic certification and the word “organic” and where it was placed. I have noticed this before and wondered, which means if I’ve raised an eyebrow, I’m sure you have to!

Let me break it down for you and if you want further information or you just don’t get it you can follow the links for more information. Mind you, this is just for the USDA organic seal of approval.

To tote the USDA seal farmers have to produce organic food using particular approved methods that help the environment and they cannot use pesticides, hormones or synthetic fertilizers.

When the food leaves the farm the process continues for the certification and the companies that process, touch, handle or manufacture the food must also follow the organic standards and rules. Does the USDA check this entire process and make sure the steps are followed? That’s a completely different post but I sure hope so.

The Tiers Of USDA Organic

The tiers of the USDA Organic Seals are worth looking into and this is how it all breaks down. The seal actually has four tiers or levels and I’ve rated them from Best to Okay:

BEST: 100% organic with the USDA seal

The USDA 100% Organic seal means that all the ingredients and methods to get that food to the store are organic but the restaurant, store or market sells the produce does not need to follow the government rules for the food to be organic.

BETTER: Organic with the USDA seal

This one means that at least 95% of the ingredients are organic. The other 5% can be whatever and this isn’t so good but better than nothing.

GOOD: Made with Organic

We’ve all seen these words “made with organic” which means that 70% of the ingredients are organic. Again, better than nothing but no seal of approval so the methods for growing, processing and making the food can be questionable.

Okay: No seal and no organic labeling

With this on the front of the box means that less than 70% of the ingredients are organic but organic wording may appear on the sides of the box or product. Deceiving! Watch out for this one.

Organic Ingredients

Sometimes a product may only have a few organic ingredients in a slew of non-organics. Companies can then list those specific ingredients on the back of the box, so to speak, as specifically organic. For example, say they use only organic tomatoes, then the list of ingredients could be

Sugar, water, salt, organic tomatoes…

Here you see the word organic is only associated with that specific ingredient. What they then do on the packaging on the front…would be interesting to see!

organic tomatoes

Here Is My Advice On Organic

Marketing screws everything up with this word “organic” because the company can be approved organic and is allowed to use the word in its name or they can say made with organic flour, etc. It makes me go cross eyed but my Green and Clean mom advice is this:

  1. Try to buy products with the seal because at least you know that 95% or more of the ingredients are organic.
  2. It’s always best to try and buy local, if possible even if the food isn’t organic. It will be fresh and won’t have had to travel so far. Most local farmers can tell you what methods they use. If you can talk to the farmer and look him in the eye, it’s a good thing.
  3. Try to choose organic foods that are from the list the “dirty dozen”. These are the foods that have the most amounts of pesticides on them and pose the biggest health threat.
  4. Use your common sense and follow your gut.

1 thought on “USDA Organic Labels: How They All Work & What They Mean”

  1. Good words! My family eat as much organic as we can, and/or we buy from labels we trust. There are some labels out there (I won’t mention names) that have an organic product alongside the same exact non-organic product and it seems odd to me. Why would someone market a non-organic product if they know the truth about pesticides etc? That’s not okay!

    We also go to the Farmer’s Market. It feels good to support a guy (or gal) who might not have the money to get the organic certification, but tells you that he/she is being responsible in their growing practices.

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