Organic Policy and Regulations, What is Organic

Why are some labels changing in the organic aisle? What’s in a name?

Quality-BadgesIf you pay attention and look closely, some tried and true “organic” brands may slowly be changing their look and label. In fact, they may even be changing their beloved brand name! It is not your imagination! The word organic may be disappearing from the front label of some popular items causing confusion and leading one to ask “what’s in a name?” 

Since the National Organic Program (NOP) began regulating the Organic Standards, the question of using organic in the label has always been under consideration. If the very name of a company had the word organic in it, how much of the product needed to be certified? The original thoughts on this were that if organic was in a brand name it did not necessarily imply an organic production or handling claim. Nor did it constitute a false or misleading statement.  At that time the NOP said they would monitor the use of the term organic in the context of the entire label. How confusing was that?

Well, last August the NOP released some much needed clarification regarding the use of brand or company names that contain the word organic. The clarified policy still allows the NOP to review company names on a case-by-case basis but also sets up the following guidelines:

  • Products that are “100% Organic” and “95% Organic” may use brand and company names that contain the term “organic” anywhere on the label, front or back. These basically stay the same!
  • Products that are “Made with Organic” may not use brand and company names that contain the term “organic” on the principal front display panel. They can only display it as part of the company signature line on the information panel.

OrganicWhat is “made with organic”?  What does it actually mean?

Processed foods that contain at least 70% organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients”. They must list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the front display panel. For example, a pasta sauce made with at least 70% organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may claim “pasta sauce made with organic tomatoes, onions and basil, or “sauce made with organic vegetables.”

The NOP link on use of the USDA organic seal clarifies when the USDA seal can be used. This rule is now consistent with company names. It states: “Products that contain less than 95% organic ingredients may not use the USDA organic seal.” They now may no longer use the word organic in their name.

What can we expect going forward?

It is reasonable to expect that some labels will change by the first of the New Year and throughout 2015. Organic will go off of the front label if they are made with 70% organic ingredients.  Certifiers will not approve labels for new products and will decline existing labels during their annual review if the products have organic in the brand name and are not at least 95% organic.

The change in these labels doesn’t constitute a change in recipes, ingredients, and certainly not a change in integrity.  

What these changes mean is that organic is the most transparent, thoroughly vetted, and vigorously discussed food system we have in this country!

If you feel strongly and want to see organic stay in the name you may encourage suppliers and manufacturers to try to achieve at least 95% organic ingredients. This isn’t always possible because some items are hard to source organically. Engage with them and find out what the barriers are to going 100% organic. These barriers are often the heated subject of allowed materials and production practices discussed at the National Organic Standard Board meetings.

200px-National_Organic_ProgramIn the end, theses changes in labels and names only reflect the high integrity of our National Organic Program. The process we have in place is truly the gold standard of food production. As it changes and develops towards continuous improvement you can sign up to be an “Organic Insider” and be on the cutting edge of information. Stay tuned and support our NOP! It’s the best we have!


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