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What Does the "USDA Certified Organic" Label Mean?

Have you ever spotted an organic label in the grocery store and wondered what it meant? What you saw was the USDA organic seal, which means a particular product has at least 95 percent organic content and is certified by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).

The USDA also certifies multi-ingredient products made with certified organic ingredients. You may see the following labels in relation to multi-ingredient products: 

  • “100% Organic” – All of the ingredients, excluding salt and water, are certified organic.
  • “Certified Organic” – 95 percent of the ingredients, excluding salt and water, are certified organic.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients” – With the exception of salt and water, at least 70 percent of the ingredients are certified organic.

NOP Standards

According to the USDA, certified organic products have been produced through approved cultural, biological, and mechanical methods that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

The USDA strictly enforces NOP standards when certifying products. Such standards include auditing certification agencies annually, prohibiting genetically modified organisms, and not allowing livestock to receive growth hormones. Additionally, all organic farms in the United States must be operating for three years before their products can be labeled as organic. These measures help to ensure that customers can be confident when buying organic-certified goods.

Who Can Be Certified?

Producers with sales exceeding $5,000 annually must be certified with an accredited certification agency if they wish to advertise their agricultural products as organic.

Producers must be certified by an accredited certification agency in order to label their products as “USDA Organic.” Any producer who does so without certification faces harsh penalties for misrepresentation.

Adapted and excerpted from:

D. D. Treadwell and M. E. Swisher, Understanding the 'USDA Organic' Label (HS1146), UF/IFAS Horticultural Sciences Department (rev. 10/2012).

National Organic Program,” USDA (10/2012).

Labeling Organic Products,” USDA (Accessed 08/2013).

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