What does USDA Organic really mean?

22 Aug

The best way to shop easily and avoid GMO ingredients without doing research is to buy organic.

You may be wondering–what does organic mean anyway?  There are different types of certifications, and there are also different regulations on the specific language used on product packages.

Well, guess what–it is a legal term when used by the USDA.  In fact, if you falsely label a product USDA Organic and it’s not USDA Organic –you could be fined up to $11,000–for each violation!!

Let’s talk about the specific USDA Organic certification and what it means to be USDA Organic.

You know that a food has been certified by the USDA and American government if you see the USDA Organic labels that look like this:

But what does the USDA Organic label really mean anyway? Here’s what I found out:


What does the USDA check for to certify the food as USDA Organic

One thing I am certain of off-hand with all of the research that I have done is that there are no GMO ingredients allowed in certified USDA Organic food.

Organic.org breaks it down in really simple terms.  You should check out their information here. Basically, organic food that is USDA Organic is (all of the following):

  1. crops grown without the use of pesticides
  2. crops grown without the use synthetic fertilizers
  3. crops grown without the use sewage sludge
  4. crops grown without the use genetically modified organisms (GMO)
  5. crops grown without the use ionizing radiation
  6. animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics
  7. animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products growth hormones (rGBH, rBST)
  8. animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are required  to have access to the outdoors (yes, you may have eaten chicken that never saw the light of day if it was not organic)
  9. animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not eat GMO feed and are usually grass fed

What levels of USDA Organic are there?

So here’s the breakdown:

  1. If you see the label above, you know that at least 95% of the ingredients in the product are organic.
  2. If the products says “Made with Organic Ingredients,” it is made with at least 70% organic ingredients.
  3. If the product listed on the ingredients sections says (organic) next to it, that sole ingredient is organic–and less than 70% of the product is organic.


Check out this video, with University professors and scientists, to learn more about what it means to be organic:



If you are thinking of organic farming, or wondering about specific guidelines for organic farming, check out this UC Davis resource:

Organic Farming Compliance Handbook

In summary, USDA Organic guidelines are regulated and strict– farmers have to pay anywhere from $400-$2,000 to have their farm certified, and this not a one time fee.  That cost is then factored into their pricing, making organic food more expensive.

So ask yourself, is a few dollars more worth piece of mind? Personally, I think it is.  I like to know what I am eating.

2 Responses to “What does USDA Organic really mean?”

  1. Jame Kettel January 23, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

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  2. www.holisticthoughts.com March 8, 2012 at 12:41 am #

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