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. If it’s an agricultural product intended for human consumption, use of the term organic requires certification.
Personal care products, textiles and dietary supplements fall outside the USDA’s authority. They may be certified to the NOP, but are not required to by law.
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% 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.
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.
Processed products that contain at least 70% organic ingredients may state “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients, food groups, or combination of ingredient and food groups)” on the principal display panel. For example, a soup made with at least 70% organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may claim “soup made with organic peas, potatoes and carrots” or “soup made with organic vegetables.” Organic ingredients must be identified on the information panel (e.g. “organic carrots”) or via an asterisk or other mark.
Similar to other organic products, processed products labeled “made with organic _______” 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 organic seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.
Processed products containing less than 70% 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.
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.
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.