Organic: What does the label mean?

Decoding food labels: part 1

Food labeling in the United States can be difficult to understand. The USDA organic seal is regulated and can only be used on products that meet specific criteria.


Under the organic label umbrella, there are actually four different categories foods can fall into.


According to the USDA, “The label 100 Percent organic is used to label any product that contains 100 percent organic ingredients.”


The label “organic,” indicates that a product “contains a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients.”


“made with organic__” labels products that contain “atleast 70 percent organically produced ingredients, with a number of detailed constraints regarding ingredients that comprise the nonorganic portion.”


The last label pertains to ingredients. “Specific organic ingredients may be listed in the ingredient statement of products containing less than 70 percent organic contents.”


These labels only pertain to food items and not to alcohol, textiles, or pet food.


One of the most common products available in conventional and organic options is fruit. Strawberries are in season and one pound of conventional strawberries $2.24. One pound of organic strawberries costs $3.36.


It seems like all farmers would want to grow organic crops because they make more money, but that isn’t necessarily true.


In order to sell organic products, a farm must first become certified organic. This requires a USDA accredited agent and fees to certify the farm and farmer. Later, an inspection is conducted to ensure organic practices are being met.


After initial certification, an annual inspection and fee are required to maintain organic certification.


This process sounds simple, and on paper, it is. The entire certification process begins after an agent is notified and a farmer abstains from spraying prohibited chemicals  on the farm for three years.


This transition is difficult. Without chemicals like round-up, weeds creep into crops and eat away at already low margins. It’s difficult to find buyers for the crops planted during the transition to organic, which means a farmer may be sacrificing three years of pay on any land transitioning to organic.




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