June 3, 2011

Labeling Food As Organic

Once Walmart announced they were going to start selling organic products it became obvious that organic foods – products that used to only be found in tiny natural food stores – have officially gone mainstrem.  Before you start throwing the ‘Organic’ word on your product packaging or in your marketing material, know that ‘Organic’ is very heavily regulated and carries fines of up to $11,000 for misuse.

Here in the US, the United States Department of Agriculture oversees the National Organic Program.  In combination with the Organic Foods Protection Act, these programs were put in place so that ‘Organic’ would have one consistent definition.  That National Organic Program labeling and marketing requirements are applicable to food businesses whose gross business from the sale of organic products is no more than $5,000 per year.

So what are the rules?  For processed food products, at least 70% of the ingredients must be organic before you can say that the products are “made with organic ingredients.”  Even at the 70% level though the National Organic Program prohibits any foods from using the term ‘Organic’ if the foods are produced using “excluded methods, sewage sludge (are you serious???), or ionizing radiation.” 

Using organic ingredients is one thing – getting certified by the USDA in order to be able to use the word ‘Organic’  or the USDA Organic mark (see example above) is another!   If you sell more than $5000 of organic products in a year and want to use the ‘Organic’ phrase in your packing or marketing, you will have to have your organization certified by the USDA.  This mean that you must have an organic system plan which outlines the practices and monitoring you have in place to ensure that all ‘Organic’ products meet the required regulations.  A certifying agent will likely need to visit your facility to check that you are following all rules before you will be allowed to use any USDA Organic labeling.

If you can’t afford to have your products organic certified or can’t afford to use a minimum of 70% organic ingredients but you still want to use organic ingredients in your products, you can still call out which ingredients are organic in the ingredient panel.  For example, your ingredient list might read: Apples, organic cinnamon, water…

More information about the USDA Organic Certification process can be found here.