Label This! What does the Organic Label really mean?

What does the Organic Label Really Mean?
What does the Organic Label really mean? How does the USDA regulate organic food? What does that mean to you?

One fact remains unquestioned about food labels: Consumers find them confusing. In a recent post that I wrote about nutrition label updates, many people commented how indecipherable they found the ingredients. Food labeling befuddles so many shoppers that people even confuse the nutrition panel with the ingredient label. Some people also mentioned that they only buy organic or fresh products, so the labels were unimportant to them.

Of course, that spawned some questions and discussion about organic food that I wanted to clarify.

What qualifies as organic?

The organic label applies to both meat and produce. For produce, plants cannot grow in synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Additionally, growers cannot use sewage sludge as fertilizer. Ewww! They also must be non-GMO. The soil that plants grow in cannot have any of those substances applied within the previous three years, either.

For livestock, animals should live in some approximation of their natural and preferred lifestyle. However, if you read about the organic egg debates, this has not been clearly defined.  Organic animals also only eat organic food and do not receive hormones or antibiotics. That does not mean they let animals suffer. If a cow becomes ill, they still receive medication.  However, the farmer cannot label its meat or byproducts organic.

To actually implement the organic label, an approved agency must certify the product as organic. The USDA offers a fabulous multi-part explanation of their organic labeling requirements, and my information comes from here.

Are there Organic label classifications?

If something is labeled “Organic,” that does not mean that every item in that product is organic.  What? Wait!

No. Seriously.  I had this debate with David over a bag of organic gummy bears. We noted that the gummy bears contain gelatin – which typically isn’t organic. When we read the ingredients label, I also pointed out to him that it was one of the few ingredients in the ingredients that didn’t say “organic.”

So, how did that package still “bear” the USDA Organic Seal? (get it…. gummy bears… bear the seal?) Because the USDA defines different classifications of “organic food.”

  1. 100% organic: For a product to make this claim, every item in the product is certified organic. The product’s label should also bear the certifying agencies name.
  2. Organic: These products can still sport the USDA organic seal, but cannot claim 100% organic. To see which ingredients are not organic, read the ingredient label. Check out the label from the Organic Gummy Bears (2017).  Notice that the organic ingredients are clearly marked as “organic,” such as the tapioca starch.  However, the nonorganic ingredients (such as the gelatin) are not. For a product to use the organic seal, it must contain at least 95% organic ingredients.
    Black Forest Gummy Bears Label
  3. Made with Organic ingredients: Products made with fewer than 95% organic ingredients cannot bear the USDA Certified seal. However, if they contain more than 70%, they can list up to three organic ingredients on the side label such as “Made with organic apples, organic strawberries, and organic oats.” As with other food labels claiming organic content, these labels must name the certifying agency.
  4. Products made with less than 70% organic ingredients: These products cannot use the seal, either. They cannot label the product as “organic” anywhere other than in the ingredients listing. So, a sample label may read “Ingredients: water, salt, Organic spinach, corn, basil.”

Can Organic products contain GMOs?

No.  In fact, the USDA maintains a list of allowed and non-allowed products in organically labeled food. This includes foods in the first three categories. However, foods made with fewer than 70% organic may contain them. If you are looking to avoid GMOs, your best bet is to buy 100% organic, organic, or look for the non-GMO project label.

What is the difference in the Black Organic Label and the Green Organic Label?

Nothing. Companies who have earned their certification may choose to either sport the green and brown logo or the black and white logo. Some companies prefer the green label because it’s easier to see. However, since the green label has more colors than the B&W logo, it’s more expensive to print. For that reason, other companies choose the black logo.

If you see the organic label in any other color, it is probably not a legitimate logo.

Back to you

  1. Does anything in this blog post surprise you?
  2. Did you learn anything new?
  3. Do you seek out organic products?
  4. Will anything that you learned influence the way you view organic products?
What does USDA Organic really mean? Are there different categories of organic food? Can Organic food have GMO?
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Happily married to the love of my life. It's just us, our 5 cats, and our beautiful woods. I'm loving living back in the Florida panhandle being close to family. I love cooking, living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of our cozy home, and trying new things.

We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.

Alicia Taylor

Happily married to the love of my life. It's just us, our 5 cats, and our beautiful woods. I'm loving living back in the Florida panhandle being close to family. I love cooking, living a healthy lifestyle, taking care of our cozy home, and trying new things.

We enjoy hosting parties and my husband and I are both avid gamers. You can find me on PS4 as SunshineFlaGirl. We also play tabletop RPGs and eurogames.


  • smileisit

    November 16, 2017 - 12:41 pm

    Everybody should know this! Thank you for sharing!

  • What you need know about pet food labels • TaylorLife

    September 25, 2017 - 1:36 pm

    […] Label This! What does the Organic Label really mean? […]

  • Anosa

    July 30, 2017 - 6:39 am

    I must admit I never truly appreciated what labels are truly giving me the right information and which are not. This is was a really informative post

  • Laurie Floyd

    July 28, 2017 - 3:51 pm

    Thank you for your clarification on this topic! I always wonder if the products I am buying are “really” organic. I try to buy organic when possible and just eat healthier in general.

  • Fi Ni Neachtain

    July 27, 2017 - 1:51 pm

    Great to have such an informative post. I think everyone should be aware of the facts and what they’re really buying.

  • Debra Hawkins

    July 26, 2017 - 5:03 pm

    It is kind of crazy how there are different ways to sneak the word organic onto the packing. I will look for USDA for sure!

  • Kiwi

    July 25, 2017 - 4:30 pm

    The trickery of marketing words. Yes organic is a buzzword but we must seek that 100% organic type!

  • reesann723

    July 25, 2017 - 11:36 am

    It’s aggravating to me how tricky it is! Most people think they are buying something really great just because it is labeled organic, but there is so much more to it!

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 12:42 pm

      Yes – there is definitely more to it. Also, organic doesn’t mean healthy, either. For example, I’m sure those gummy bears aren’t high on a nutritionist meal plan.

  • Our Family World

    July 25, 2017 - 10:45 am

    Thank you for the ton of information provided. here. I would love to get organic food once in a while, but my husband said not everything that is labeled “organic” is actually organic. We must buy only from trusted labels or go and plant our own vegaetables instead.

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 12:43 pm

      If it is USDA certified organic – it’s organic. The key is to read the label to make sure it’s 100% organic. Or see what isn’t organic. Not all ingredients are available organically, so can be included – as long as they are not labeled as organic.

  • Ali Gilbert

    July 25, 2017 - 10:34 am

    Okay, so this is SO helpful. I truly never knew what organic even meant, isn’t that terrible? I just figured it was a good thing and jumped on the banwagon. Pinning this to have as a resource. Thanks so much.

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 11:48 am

      I do prefer to buy organic. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing – it’s just that the claim may not be what people think it is

  • keikilani

    July 25, 2017 - 9:56 am

    This is very helpful. It can be hard to navigate what is truly organic in the grocery store.

  • Heather DiNuzzo

    July 25, 2017 - 9:20 am

    They can be sneaky with labels. Thanks for clearing that up!

  • Katie Kinsley

    July 25, 2017 - 7:49 am

    I usually do not buy organic because I was not educated in the difference. For me, organic seems to be much more expensive than non.

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 10:10 am

      It is more expensive, however, that’s in part because it is more expensive to raise organic. Since they aren’t allowed to use pesticides and herbicides, they are more likely to lose part of the crop. Since it cannot have artificial preservatives, it may not last as long. And if an organically ill animal becomes sick and needs medicine, its products cannot be organic.

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 10:13 am

      Also, more store brands are starting to carry organic. Walmart is starting to carry organic products of their own label. They aren’t as expensive as name brand and still quite good. Check Target, and Publix, too.

  • Nicole

    July 25, 2017 - 7:08 am

    Wait a minute, WHO is using sewer sludge as fertilizer? People actually do that? ICK! Maybe it is worth the extra money to go organic after all!

  • A Busy Bees Life - Sheri

    July 25, 2017 - 6:40 am

    I definitely a lot that I didn’t know. This is so informative. I will be sharing this. It could help a lot of people who are looking to switch to more organic and healthy diets.

  • Kimberly @ Berly's Kitchen

    July 25, 2017 - 4:48 am

    This is a great post with a lot of good information. Understanding the term organic can be confusing, but you’ve explained it well. This will make it easier when grocery shopping.

  • Jess Holmes

    July 24, 2017 - 10:49 pm

    Yes, yes, yes! I always have to explain this to people and they’re always amazed.

  • Alicia

    July 24, 2017 - 10:47 pm

    This is so interesting! I did not realize that if a label said organic it may have some ingredients in it that aren’t. I just assumed “organic” means everything in it is organic. Labels are definitely confusing!

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 10:11 am

      I agree. I wish there was a label for 100% organic and a label for “organic”.

  • Kristin Cheuvront

    July 24, 2017 - 9:37 pm

    The organic labels can be super tricky. This post is super helpful!

  • Star Traci

    July 24, 2017 - 9:37 pm

    This is really interesting. I did not know about Organic vs. 100% Organic. I will look a little closer at the labels now.

  • sara

    July 24, 2017 - 8:48 pm

    I always try to buy organic is there are more than one option. it is important to me, especially with the dirty dozen fruits and vegetables.

  • Milena Barrett

    July 24, 2017 - 6:31 pm

    I read labels all the time and have taught my boys to do so as well. I didn’t think about some of these points. Thanks!

  • Rebecca

    July 24, 2017 - 5:33 pm

    Reading labels is something I’m not good at. I find them difficult to understand.

  • loisaltermark

    July 24, 2017 - 5:11 pm

    There is so much important information here. Labels can be so challenging to read and understand, and organic doesn’t always mean what we think i does. This is all great to know.

  • Claudia Krusch

    July 24, 2017 - 4:14 pm

    This is fantastic information. I am trying to learn how to properly read labels so I can be more aware of what is in my food.

  • Yes Missy

    July 24, 2017 - 4:05 pm

    Really informative read. I usually don’t buy organic products but I’ve been considering it more these days.

  • brandidcrawfordgmailcom

    July 24, 2017 - 3:46 pm

    This is such an informative post. It’s great to know what organic truly means and how the meats and veggies are different. I try to buy organic from Costco and Trader Joe’s.

    • Alicia Taylor

      July 25, 2017 - 10:12 am

      I miss Costco, but Walmart now has their own organic stuff, and so does Publix. It’s catching on.

  • tamaralikecamera

    July 24, 2017 - 3:04 pm

    Wow. I had no idea about the 100% organic vs. just organic labeling. I’m totally going to look out more at our co-op later today!

  • jmanandmillerbug

    July 24, 2017 - 3:01 pm

    OK this is really informative! I know so little about Organic anything. This post REALLY helped me a lot! It clarifies a lot of questions I had!

  • Kim LaCoste

    July 24, 2017 - 2:56 pm

    Didn’t realize organic and 100% organic are different. That is something that the general public needs to be more aware of.

  • Carrie Chance

    July 24, 2017 - 1:04 pm

    This was pretty informative. I didn’t realize that there were different labels.

  • Lisa (@blm03)

    July 24, 2017 - 11:34 am

    This is great information for anyone that wants to know more about organic products. I think this is good to know especially when trying to shop healthier.

  • Heather Lawrence

    July 24, 2017 - 11:00 am

    We do have quite a few products that are organic that we love but it took a lot of research to find out if they actually were or not.
    We have shopped at the organic market so it took a lot of guess work out of it.
    Great post!

  • Cathy Herard

    July 24, 2017 - 10:49 am

    Great post! I’ve done research in the past regarding organic products and it’s pretty interesting how different items get the labeling. I prefer to buy as much organic as possible, but still read the label because organic isn’t always better/healthier.

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