Organic Labeling Requirements
In the United States, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is responsible for setting regulations for organic agricultural products that are either produced in the U.S. or imported for sale in this country.
In addition to setting requirements for how organic agricultural products are grown, processed and handled, the NOP also sets labeling requirements for these products. Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product.
Products Labeled as “100% Organic” or “Organic”
Products labeled as “100% organic” must contain only organically produced ingredients and processing aids, excluding water and salt. No other ingredients or additives are permitted.
Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances that appear on the NOP National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The full list of substances is available on the USDA NOP website.
Products meeting either of these labeling requirements may display these phrases, as well as the percentage of organic content, on the product’s principal display panel.
Organic products bearing either of these labels must be grown, handled and processed without the use of pesticides or other synthetic chemicals, irradiation, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or bioengineering. The USDA seal and the seal or mark of the organic certifying agent(s) may appear on product packages and in advertisements.
Products Labeled as “Made with Organic Ingredients”
Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, a soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may claim “soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots” or “soup made with organic vegetables.”
Similar to other organic products, processed products labeled “made with organic ingredients” cannot be produced using any processes prohibited by the NOP. The percentage of organic content and the certifying agent’s mark may be used on the principal display panel. However, the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.
Processed Products Containing Organic Ingredients
Processed products containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the term “organic” anywhere on the principal display panel. They are permitted to identify specific ingredients that are organically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel.
Other Organic Food Label Claims
The NOP does not have any restrictions regarding the use of other truthful labeling claims such as “no drugs or growth hormones used,” “free range” or “sustainably harvested.” While claims of being gluten-free or kosher may also be on the labels of some organic products, these claims are separate from any claims of organic certification noted on the label.
NSF/ANSI 305 Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients
Cosmetics, lotions and other personal hygiene products certified for compliance with NSF/ANSI 305 are permitted to bear the NSF “contains organic ingredients” mark confirming compliance with this standard. The product label must also state the exact percentage of organic content on the label.
The NOP requires that all products bearing any of the above organic labels identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel. In addition, the name of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel.
For a list of Quality Assurance International (QAI) certified organic products, please visit the QAI online database.