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Organic Produce

What Constitutes Organic?

The USDA's National Organic Standards went into effect on October 21, 2002. The standards, established by the National Organics Standards Board with the help of thousands of industry and public comments, were written over a period of twelve years. Only foods that meet specific standards can display the national label.

What Are the Labeling Laws? The National Organic Program (NOP) has four classifications of certification

  • 100% Organic
    • Foods must be produced and processed according to specific USDA guidelines
    • Guidelines preclude the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones, genetically modified ingredients, and irradiation, among other practices
    • Foods certified to meet these requirements may display the USDA Organic label and/or the statement "100% Organic"
  • Organic
    • Foods must be made with 95% organic ingredients
    • The remaining ingredients may be non-agricultural or not commercially available in organic form
    • Foods certified to meet these guidelines may display the USDA Organic label (but not the statement "100% Organic")
  • Made With Organic Ingredients
    • Foods made with 70-95% organic ingredients can state "Made With Organic Ingredients" on the label (and list up to three organic ingredients), but cannot display the seal
  • Less Than 70% Organic Ingredients
    • Such foods may list organic ingredients in the packaging information panel only (not on the principal display panel)

To view the standards in detail, see The National Organic Program.


  • Provides consistent guidelines across the nation
  • Increases consumer awareness and confidence
  • Predicted to boost sales of organic products
  • May increase organic farming worldwide; better for the environment


  • Smaller farmers may not be able to afford the cost of certification
  • May lock smaller grower/suppliers out and relegate organics to bigger businesses
  • May create incentives to import organic ingredients grown in countries with lower costs of production, i.e. Mexico

How Do The New Organic Laws Affect The Foodservice Industry?

To date most foodservice operators are excluded from these regulations, but foodservice establishments may someday be required to document organic suppliers' certifications in order to mention "organic" on menus or in advertising/promotional materials.

For more information about organics and the USDA standards, visit:

Environmental Working Group
Center For Science in the Public Interest
Organic Trade Association

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