Get Smart About Organic Labels - Organic Trade Association
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Get Smart About Organic Labels


News Release

For more information, contact: Holly Givens (413-774-7511, Ext. 18)


Get Smart About Organic Labels

GREENFIELD, Mass. (January 9, 2006) ó With organic industry growth continuing at a steady pace of nearly 20 percent per year, new organic offerings have proliferated in the marketplace. From snack foods and baked goods to frozen items and dairy products, grocery shelves carry organic alternatives in nearly every food category. There are even non-food products that carry the organic seal, too. With many resolving to change their habits in the New Year, consumers will be seeking out more organic products. That is why it is important to understand the various organic labeling options.


"The U.S. organic standards were designed to give consumers choices in the marketplace," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of the Organic Trade Association. "Some of those options contain 100 percent organic ingredients, others only a few. But regardless of the amount of organic ingredients within the products, every organic choice encourages farming methods that build healthy soil and a healthy environment."


There is a growing body of evidence that organic farming practices help reduce exposure to toxic chemicals in our food and the environment. Some health issues linked to the use of toxic and persistent chemicals used in farming include cancer in humans, birth defects, infertility, and antibiotic resistance. Environmental pollution and degradation such as greenhouse gasses, tainted drinking water, soil erosion and loss of natural resources are also linked to the use of toxic and persistent chemicals in farming. Organic farming offers an alternative that helps protect the environment and public health.
National organic standards offer U.S. consumers the assurance that all food products labeled as organic in the United States are governed by consistent standards. U.S. organic standards, as implemented in 2002, allow four different labeling options based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product. These include three distinct categories, and a fourth option for products that contain organic ingredients but not at a high enough level to meet one of the three labeling categories:

  • 100 percent organic. Only products that have been exclusively produced using organic methods and contain only organic ingredients (excluding water and salt) are allowed to carry a label declaring "100 percent organic."
  • Organic. This signifies that at least 95 percent of the ingredients (by weight, excluding water and salt) in a processed product have been organically produced. The remaining contents can only be natural or synthetic ingredients not available in an organic form that are recommended by the National Organic Standards Board and allowed on the National List (for specific information on the National List, see The product cannot use both organic and non-organic versions of any ingredient that is listed as organic. For instance, if a loaf of bread is made with organic wheat, all of the wheat in the bread must be organic.
  • Made with organic. Products with 70 to 95 percent organic ingredients may display "Made with organic [with up to three specific organic ingredients or food groups listed]" on the front panel.
  • All three categories prohibit the inclusion of any ingredients produced using genetic engineering, irradiation, or sewage sludge.
  • Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients can list the organic items only in the ingredient panel. There can be no mention of organic on the main panel.

To assist consumers, USDA has designed a seal that may be used only on products labeled as "100 percent organic" or "organic." Use of the seal is voluntary, but is seen as a useful tool. Grocery stores are increasingly using the "USDA Organic" seal on shelf talkers and other point of purchase materials to help identify organic sections in the store. Non-food products that meet the requirements for using the "USDA Organic" seal can also use the seal.


Consumers choosing organic products have the assurance that by doing so they are supporting farmers committed to maintaining the long-term health of our environment.


The mission of the Organic Trade Association is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy. OTA envisions organic products becoming a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people's lives and the environment. As a membership-based business association, the Organic Trade Association focuses on the organic business community in North America. OTA's more than 1,600 members include farmers, processors, importers, exporters, distributors, retailers, certifiers, and more. For further information, visit OTA's web site at


Headquarters: 60 Wells Street, P.O. Box 547, Greenfield, MA 01302 USA (413) 774-7511 Fax: (413) 774-6432 e-mail: ( web site:
Legislative Office: 600 Cameron Street, Alexandria, VA 22304 USA (202) 338-2900

January 9, 2006

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