Wednesday, March 30, 2011

USDA and Organic Certifications

It’s hard to tell these days what “organic” really means. Consumers regularly fall victim to "greenwashing" by companies with questionable ethics. How do you know if a product is completely organic or merely contains an organic ingredient or two?  One solution to this issue was solved by the USDA. They created a set of organic certifications to help distinguish what is really organic. However, it is not as straight forward as you might think.Rate this item

National Organic Program (NOP)

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is a federal regulation governing organic production, processing, and delivery. The USDA certifications, tests and assessment processes all follow the standards set by the NOP. The USDA is the implementing body of said program.

A Closer Look at USDA Certification

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in order to protect consumers and organic producers, has set certain standards for producers to qualify their products as certified organic. Adhering to USDA organic standards will entitle producers to use the “organic” label on their products. There are a number of certifying organizations accredited by the USDA to assess products and determine if they meet USDA certification.

Are All Organic Products 100% Organic?

There are actually different levels of certification that the USDA gives to various products. Even if producers would like to have a 100% organic product, there are cases when materials or ingredients available for production do not qualify it as such. The USDA, therefore, has created four levels of categorizing organic products: 100% organic, certified organic, made with organic ingredients, and notating organic substances with an asterisk in the list of ingredients.

Products with a “100% Organic” label utilize only organic ingredients. These items do not contain any additional non-organic ingredients and may be recognized by the USDA Organic seal. Those that are “Certified Organic” use 95-99.9% organic ingredients. Although these products contain 0.1-5% non-organic material, they are also permitted to utilize the USDA Organic seal. Items, however, with only 70-97.9% organic materials, will only be represented with “Made with Organic Ingredients” and may not display the USDA Organic seal. Products containing less than 70% organic ingredients may not carry one of the USDA labels. Any organic ingredients will be marked with an asterisk only indicating their organic nature.

USDA Organic Beef, Dairy and Poultry

Aside from crops, meat and dairy products can also carry the USDA Organic certification if they pass stringent USDA requirements. The raising of the animals and the maintenance of the farms must follow strict guidelines. The producers as well as the processing companies must be USDA organic certified. The production and handling of the food must also meet the organic standards to utilize the USDA Organic seal.

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