Organic foods are produced by organic farming which sounds simple enough, but there are wide range of what constitutes “organic” which will be explained in this article. While there may be some differences across geographies, organic foods are produced without the use of irradiation, chemical fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives. The food cannot be genetically modified (explained in next section).
Certification is required by the USDA if a company wants to market its product as organic. Any producer or supplier from the seed company to the retailer or even a restaurant can get certified. This requires periodic inspections, strict separation of organic foods from non-certified goods, a solid paper trail of production and sales records, as well as production on land that has been free from prohibited chemicals for years, often three years or more. Certification is granted by state and non-profit organizations approved by the USDA.
In the U.S., there are three levels of certification:
100% organic: products made entirely with certified organic methods and ingredients. It is labeled with USDA Organic seal below:
Organic: 95% of the ingredients are certified organic. Labeled with USDA Organic seal.
Made with organic ingredients: requires a minimum of 70% certified organic ingredients. This category is not allowed to use the USDA Organic seal.
You may have a handful of local farms in your area that produce organic food, but do not pay for certification. It is up to you to research and trust these farmers’ claims.
Organic (and non-GMO) standards and labeling are under attack by the food producers so be sure to keep your eyes open to legislation that may lower current standards.