What Does Organic Mean For The Goods You Buy?

February 3, 2011

Although it seems that every manufacturer and every store out there is starting to sell “organic” food, clothes, bedding, makeup, etc, what does organic mean? In 2002, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) became the agency in charge of organics in the United States with the National Organic Program, which regulates the standards for any “farm, wild crop harvesting, or handling operation that wants to sell an agricultural product as organically produced”. And according to the NOP, for products to attain the “organic” label from the program, they must meet these conditions:

  • be produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations
  • organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones
  • organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation

what does organic mean

However, there are different standards for foods and goods that have varying levels of “organic” to them. In order get the USDA Organic seal seen above, a product must be at least 95% organic. Granted, there can still be 5% non-organic materials in the goods, but 95% organic is a must. To be labeled 100% Organic, all ingredients must actually be 100% organic. Products with less than 70 % organic ingredients cannot label the entire product as organic, but rather can label individual ingredients that are organic on the side of the package.

organic label

Some things to keep in mind when buying food and products:

  • Natural does not mean organic and/or healthy
  • Free-range does not mean organic
  • Hormone-free does not mean organic
  • The word “organic” on something does not mean that everything in the product is actually organically grown
  • The use of the USDA seal is voluntary, so if you don’t see the seal, it does not mean a product is not organic

However, the USDA has determined that some ingredients used for growing organic foods/goods do not need to be necessarily “healthy” for any of us – chlorine, Copper sulfate, ozone gas, Peracetic acid, Plastic mulch, ammonium – the list goes on and on. If you want, you can read the whole long list right here.

So what does organic mean? It can be hard to conjure a definitive meaning, and that’s why key thing to keep in mind when shopping for organic food or products is to look for 100% or 95% organic labels, as anything less than that and you might be allowing a decent sized amount of chemicals into your food or goods. Also, be sure to look for the actual USDA labels, and if in doubt, be sure to read the entire list of ingredients on the side of the package. It can get pretty confusing, so being aware is half the battle. If in doubt, here is a helpful list of which foods you should be buying organic.

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Comments (2)

  1. Thanks for this David, a lot of people don’t understand this info. Also, they don’t understand that the 5% of ingredients that are allowed in certified organics also have strict criteria. Not just any ingredient is allowed.

    While these standards were set up for food, personal care products have been able to qualify too. When you see personal care products that are certified organic, they are certified to the same food-grade standards you mentioned here. That’s a high standard for personal care as it’s hard to formulate a product that qualifies for organic certification AND actually works. Until 2001 when Miessence became the 1st personal care range in the world to be certified organic, it was thought not to even be possible.

    People often ask me about organic cosmetics. It’s even more difficult to get organic cosmetics because USDA certification only covers agricultural ingredients, not all natural ingredients. Most all natural cosmetics have ingredients that are natural, but not agricultural such as minerals, clays, etc and therefore don’t qualify for certification.

  2. OrganicTrade says:

    Thank you for sharing this information about organic with your readers. The Organic Trade Association would like to reiterate a point made by the previous commenter.Minor ingredients used in organic food must come from a list of approved substances that have been evaluated for safety and their impact on both human and environmental health. By law, these ingredients must make up 5% or less of the total ingredients used to make organic food.

    Organic. It’s worth it.