Have you ever wandered through the aisles of the supermarket and spotted food that was labeled “USDA organic”? Have you ever wondered what that really meant?
The US has three levels of organic food: “100% organic,” “organic,” and “made with organic ingredients.” To be “100% organic,” the food must be made entirely with certified organic ingredients. To be “organic,” the food must have 95% organic ingredients. “Made with organic ingredients” means the food consists of at least 70% of organic ingredients, but it cannot display the USDA seal. The multi-ingredient foods under these labels cannot have any artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. Certain processed additives are approved, such as enzymes for yogurt, pectin in fruit jams, and baking soda in baked goods. All non-organic ingredients cannot be produced with genetic engineering or other prohibited practices.
In crops, no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, or additives can be used. No organic crops can be genetically modified. The farmland on which crops are grown must be free from prohibited chemical inputs (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) for at least 3 years. All non-certified organic crops must be kept separate from organic ones. Farmers are subject to periodic on-site inspections as well as random, surprise inspections. These may include tests on soil, water, and plant tissue.
For animals, all livestock must meet health and welfare standards. They cannot have antibiotics or growth hormones. They must be 100% organically fed. All animals have a minimum pasture time, depending on the species.
The title “organic” is legally restricted. If there is a product not meeting organic standards, you can file a complaint with the USDA; all complaints are investigated. But you can rest assured that if something says “organic” it will meet these standards.