Going green doesn’t start with doing green acts — it starts with a shift in consciousness. This shift allows you to recognize that with every choice you make, you are voting either for or against the kind of world you wish to see. When you assume this as a way of being, your choices become easier.Ian Somerhalder
from the USDA
Understanding what “USDA Organic” Means
“Organic” might appear as one more piece of information to decipher when shopping for food amidst nutrition facts, ingredients lists, and dietary claims on food packages. So, understanding what “organic” really means can help shoppers make informed choices.
Organic Certification Factors
USDA Organic certified foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines. These guidelines address, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances. They also use physical, mechanical, and biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible.
USDA Organic Produce
Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are prohibited substances. When a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved. It is approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment (see other considerations in “USDA Organic 101: Allowed and Prohibited Substances”).
USDA Organic Meat and Processed Foods
As for organic meat, regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.
When it comes to processed, multi-ingredient foods, the USDA organic standards specify additional considerations.
Regulations prohibit organically processed foods that contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. It also requires that their ingredients are organic, with some minor exceptions. For example, processed organic foods may contain some approved non-agricultural ingredients, like enzymes in yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, or baking soda in baked goods.
Made with USDA Organic Ingredients
When packaged products indicate they are “made with organic [specific ingredient or food group],” this means they contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. The remaining non-organic ingredients are produced without using prohibited practices (genetic engineering, for example) but can include substances that would not otherwise be allowed in 100% organic products.
“Made with organic” products will not bear the USDA organic seal. As with all other organic products, these products must still identify the USDA-accredited certifier. You can look for the identity of the certifier on a packaged product for verification that the organic product meets USDA’s organic standards.
All organic foods are grown and/or handled without the use of genetically modified organisms. Organic standards expressly prohibit the items listed in the following article: “Organic 101: What Organic Farming (and Processing) Doesn’t Allow.”
USDA Organic Labeling
Becoming familiar with the USDA organic label and understanding its claims empower consumers to make informed decisions about the food they purchase. There are many marketing claims that add value to foods. Consumers can be assured that USDA organic products are verified organic at all steps between the farm and the store.