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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Does anything in this blog post surprise you?
- Did you learn anything new?
- Do you seek out organic products?
- Will anything that you learned influence the way you view organic products?
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.