Organic is all about how a product or food is grown and processed. For a product to be certified organic in most countries, the operations that produce the organic agricultural ingredients, the handlers of those agricultural ingredients, and the manufacturer of the final product must all be certified by an accredited organic certifying agent. Through onsite inspections and a review of the company’s organic system plan and documentation, these agents verify that organic products are produced and handled according to strict standards. Most organic regulations prohibit the use of pesticides and most other synthetic chemicals, along with irradiation, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients and bioengineering.

Organic certification doesn't necessarily mean that a product is free of something, as organic products can be exposed to impurities from natural forces beyond the control of the organic farmer or producer. However, because of the strict standards used in the production and handling of organic products, impact from non-organic practices is limited.

Natural vs. Organic

Although the words “natural” and “organic” are sometimes used interchangeably, they have different meanings. Food products labeled as "natural" are required to be minimally processed and to contain no artificial ingredients. However, the natural label does not include any standards regarding farm practices. In contrast, organic products must be grown, processed and handled from farm to fork without using conventional pesticides and other synthetic chemicals, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or other banned practices. For companies to label their products as organic, their operations must be inspected and certified by an approved organic certifying agent.

In the U.S., organic production and handling operations that sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products are exempt from certification. While these operations may label their products organic if they abide by the standards, they cannot display the USDA organic seal.