Food Labels 2: Organic

This is Part 2 of a series on US food label laws and regulations. Part 1 is here.

This post is about the regulations that cover organic standards for food labels. It is not about organic agriculture. If you want to know more about how the US government defines organic production, you can wade through the relevant regulations!

The final national organic standards rule was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000 and the law was activated April 21, 2001. This law, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), set up the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) and is administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). As well as defining what is permitted in organic production, it also defines how to label organic food products. Agriculture is covered by Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Food, if you remember, is Title 21.

Organic Food Labels

Photo Credit: USDA (no longer shown on website)

As the image shows there are four levels of organic food.

  1. 100% Organic
  2. Organic (>95% organic ingredients)
  3. Made with organic ingredients (70-95% organic ingredients)
  4. Less than 70% organic ingredients

100% Organic must contain 100% organic ingredients (except obvious things that cannot be organic like salt or water – if the ingredient cannot be produced on a farm it cannot be organic). Food that is 100% organic can have “100% Organic” on the front of the package (principal display panel (PDP)) and MUST include the following statement on the information panel:

“Certified organic by ____” or similar phrase, followed by the name of the Certifying Agent. Certifying Agent seals may not be used to satisfy
this requirement.

The package may show the USDA Organic Seal and the Organic Certifying Agent’s Seal(s).

USDA Organic Seal

Food that has “Organic” on the PDP must contain greater than 95% organic ingredients and have the same certifying statement as above on the information panel. It also may show the USDA Organic Seal and the Organic Certifying Agent’s Seal(s).

Food that has organic ingredients so that the organic content is 70-95% can have on the front “Made with Organic Ingredients”. The organic ingredient(s) must be identified in the ingredient listing and the certified statement must be on the information panel. These food products must NOT show the organic seal but may show the Organic Certifying Agent’s Seal(s).

Food with less that 70% organic material cannot show anything on the front and must not show the organic seal. Organic ingredients can be identified in the ingredient list.

Confused yet? I found this great graphic over at the Down to Earth Blog which helped me understand it better:

Organic Food Label Guide


“Natural” does not have a legal definition and cannot be used interchangeably with “organic”. Also seafood is not regulated under OFPA. Thus, seafood claiming to be organic is labeled at the discretion of the producer.

Any comment or questions?

Now I am off to the local Coop’s Farmers’ Market. Hopefully I get some nice vegetables that will encourage me to cook and some more plants for the garden.


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