What is Organic?

KeelyTempted to buy organic, but don’t know what it means? You aren’t alone! According to a recent study released by the Natural Marketing Institute last month, most consumers are still unsure about what “organic” really means and often confuse organic products with those labeled as the mostly-meaningless “natural.” Here’s what you need to know about organic product labels:

Today, there are approximately 30,000 functioning organic farms around the world. “In the U.S., organic product sales reached over $35B in 2013 with organic foods and beverages representing 92% of those sales. In fact, organic food accounts for almost 5% of all U.S. food sales.”

USDA Organic Standards

The organic standards were founded on the principles of protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances by The National Organic Program.

  • Organic crops: 

    The USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used.

  • Organic livestock:

    The USDA organic seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.

  • Organic multi-ingredient foods:

    The USDA organic seal verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content. If the label claims that it was made with specified organic ingredients, you can be sure that those specific ingredients are certified organic.

Certification & Regulation

In order for a farm to be USDA certified organic, the land must have been free of prohibited substances for at least three years before the harvest of an organic crop.

The National Organic Program regulates all organic crops, livestock, and agricultural products certified to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic standards. Organic certification agencies inspect and verify that organic farmers, ranchers, distributors, processors, and traders are complying with the USDA organic regulations.

Any entity that knowingly sells a product labeled as organic that does not meet the National Organic Program Regulations could be fined a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

Different Organic Product Labels

The USDA has outlined three different categories for labeling organic products:

  1. Products labeled as “100% Organic” are made with 100% organic ingredients.
  2. Products labeled as “Organic” are made with at least 95% organic ingredients.
  3. Products labeled as “Made With Organic Ingredients” are made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients. The remaining 30% of ingredients must not be genetically engineered.

Now that we all have a better idea of what organic truly means, it’s up to those of us who can to make an informed choice next time we’re at the grocery store. Check back soon for my next blog post for tips and advice on how to buy organic on a budget!



“Agricultural Marketing Service – Home.” Agricultural Marketing Service – Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

“2015 Growing the Organic Industry, Strategies for Brand Success *April 2015 Limited Time Offer- Save 25%.” Natural Marketing Institute (NMI). N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

United States. National Organic Program. U.S. Department of Agriculture. N.p., June 2012. Web. Apr. 2015.

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