The United States Department of Agriculture
The United States Department of Agriculture (informally the Agriculture Department or USDA) is the United States federal executive department responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal government policy on farming, agriculture, and food.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established an organic certification program that requires all organic foods to meet strict government standards. These standards regulate how such foods are grown, handled and processed. Any farmer or food manufacturer who labels and sells a product as organic must be USDA certified as meeting these standards. Only producers who sell less than $5,000 a year in organic foods are exempt from this certification.
Products certified 95 percent or more organic display this USDA sticker. If a food bears a USDA Organic label, it means it’s produced and processed according to the USDA standards and that at least 95 percent of the food’s ingredients are organically produced. The seal is voluntary, but many organic producers use it.
Products that are completely organic — such as fruits, vegetables, eggs or other single- ingredient foods — are labeled 100 percent organic and can carry a small USDA seal. Foods that have more than one ingredient, such as breakfast cereal, can use the USDA organic seal or the following wording on their package labels, depending on the number of organic ingredients:
100 percent organic. Products that are completely organic or made of all organic ingredients.
Organic. Products that are at least 95 percent organic.
Made with organic ingredients. These are products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The organic seal can’t be used on these packages.
Foods containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients can’t use the organic seal or the word “organic” on their product label. They can include the organic items in their ingredient list, however.
You may see other terms on food labels, such as “all-natural,” “free-range” or “hormone-free.” These descriptions may be important to you, but don’t confuse them with the term “organic.” Only those foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled organic.
What does the USDA Organic Seal mean?
The USDA organic seal verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content, assuring consumers of the quality and integrity of that product. Therefore, if the label claims that it was made with specified organic ingredients, you can be sure that those specific ingredients are certified organic. Organic-certified operations must have an organic system plan and records that verify compliance with that plan. Operators are inspected annually in addition there are random checks to assure standards are being met.
Once certified, cosmetics, personal care products, and body care products are eligible for the same 4 organic labeling categories as all other agricultural products, based on their organic content and other factors:
Any cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product that does not meet the production, handling, processing, labeling, and certification standards described above, may not state, imply, or convey in any way that the product is USDA-certified organic or meets the USDA organic standards.
Organic Labeling Categories
100% organic: Product must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
Organic: Product must contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form, also on the National List. Products may display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
Made with more than 70% organic ingredients: Products contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and product label can list up to three of the organic ingredients or “food” groups on the principal display panel. Products may not display the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
Made with less than 70% organic ingredients: Products cannot use the term “organic” anywhere on the principal display panel.
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