Frequently Asked Questions About Organic Labels
As a grower or handler using the right vs. wrong organic label may be the difference between a costly fine or no costly fine.
Is the USDA Organic Seal the Same as an Organic Label?
"USDA Organic Seal" is often used interchangeably with the term "USDA organic label" or "Organic label." They're not the same thing though. The USDA Organic Seal is what a true organic product is allowed to wear.
For example, you might say, "My apple juice is 100% certified organic so the USDA allows my juice to wear the USDA organic seal." The label term could be used like so, "My apple juice has some organic ingredients, but it's not certified, so it can't wear the USDA Organic Seal, but I can use an organic label that says, 'Made with Organic Ingredients.'
An organic label is just a label. The USDA Organic Seal is a privilege of certified products.
What Products Can Wear the USDA Organic Seal?
Any product certified to USDA organic standards is allowed to wear the USDA Organic Seal. Products allowed to wear the seal include food, clothing, personal care products, and other certified organic products.
The National Organic Program (NOP) has official labeling requirements but they only apply to agricultural ingredients. For example, essential oil and cereal can carry the USDA Organic Seal. However, food and personal care products are regulated differently. If the cereal is mislabeled the food processor can get into trouble because the USDA does regulate food labeling. The USDA certifies but does not regulate personal care items such as essential oils.
What Are the Requirements for a 100% Organic Label?
In order to label a product as, "100% Organic" the product must have the following characteristics.
- The product contains 100% USDA certified organic ingredients.
- Zero non-organic ingredients are allowed in the product.
- If processing aids are used during product production, they must be 100% USDA certified organic.
- A "100% Organic" product is allowed to wear the USDA Organic Seal.
- Example - 100% Organic Apple Juice.
What Are the Requirements for an Organic Label?
In order to label a product as "Organic" the product must have the following characteristics.
- The product contains at least 95% organic ingredients.
- The remaining 5% ingredients can be non-organic allowed ingredients.
- Ingredient exception - any agricultural ingredients in the product must be organic unless not available.
- An "Organic" product is allowed to wear the USDA Organic Seal.
- Example - Organic Apple Juice.
What Does Made with Organic Ingredients Mean?
If you label a product as "Made With Organic Ingredients" the product cannot wear the USDA Organic Seal and must have the following characteristics.
- The product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
- The remaining 30% of ingredients can be non-organic allowed ingredients or non-organic agricultural ingredients
- Example - Fruit Punch made with apples, organic grapes, and strawberries.
What About Products With Less Than 70% Organic Ingredients?
Food products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients do not qualify for any organic label. A product like this may contain any level of organic ingredients and there are zero restrictions on other ingredients. The product cannot bear any sort of organic claim on the packaging.
Exception - the product can state organic ingredients in their ingredient statement, such as, "Organic oats, milk, eggs, flour and organic raisins" but you cannot state that the product was "Made With" organic ingredients.
Can I Use the USDA Organic Seal on Non-Certified Products?
Individuals or companies who misuse the USDA Organic Seal or mislabel a product as "Organic" can get into costly trouble. If a product carries the USDA Organic Seal, or if a food product even states "Organic" on the packaging, the product must be certified organic. If the product is not certified organic, individuals or businesses may be fined up to $11,000 per violation.
Where Can I Download the USDA Organic Seal?
If your product is certified organic and is allowed to carry the USDA Organic Seal, you can download copies of the USDA Organic Seal at the USDA website. Four color seals and black and white seals are available.
Can I Create My Own Version of the USDA Organic Seal?
You cannot change the color or design of the USDA Organic Seal. Changing the seal in any way is considered non-compliance according to sections 205.311 of National Organic Program policy.
Do I Have to Use an Organic Label?
If a product is certified USDA organic, labeling is optional. There's plenty of good reasons to choose organic labeling though. Organic labels aren't just important for growers and handlers, but for consumers as well. The right organic label helps consumers understand the type of organic product they're purchasing and shows your product's commitment to healthy people and a healthy planet.