Is the label verified?
Yes
Is the meaning of the label consistent?
Yes
Are the label standards publicly available?
Yes
Is information about the organization publicly available?
Yes
Is the organization free from conflict of interest?
Yes
Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
Yes

This label can be found on: Processed foods and beverages

PROGRAM NAME: USDA Organic

ORGANIZATION: National Organic Program - Agricultural Marketing Service - United States Department of Agriculture
url: https://www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program

LABEL STANDARDSStandards are federal regulations available in the Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR 205).

 

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What this label means

How meaningful is this label? 

This label is somewhat meaningful and verified.

A product with a “made with organic [specified ingredients]” (e.g., "made with organic wheat and tomatoes") labeling claim contains at least 70% agricultural ingredients that were produced in accordance with the organic standards, which promote sustainable agriculture practices, including the elimination of toxic synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other synthetic inputs.

The remaining 30% non-organic ingredients, if they are agricultural, can be produced with the use of synthetic inputs (e.g., crops grown with the use of synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers), drugs (e.g., meat from animals given antibiotics and artificial growth hormones) and chemical processing aids (e.g., synthetic solvents for oil extraction). The remaining 30% cannot be genetically engineered, irradiated, or produced with sewage sludge.

Because 70% of ingredients have to be certified organic, rather than 95-100% which is required for the “organic” label and the use of the “USDA Organic” seal, the “made with organic [ingredients]” is not as meaningful as the “organic” label.

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Is the label verified?

Yes.

Federal organic standards require that farms and food processing facilities producing foods labeled “organic” are inspected by a third-party certification agency. Even for a product with the “made with organic [ingredients] labeling claim, the handler (manufacturer) of the final product is verified, and the certifying agent has to be identified on the package. Inspections are not conducted by the USDA; rather, the USDA accredits certifying agencies to certify to the USDA organic standards.

For the 70% of organic ingredients, the organic standards require annual inspections of farms and processing facilities, and random inspections are possible. Farmers and food processors are also required to submit an updated organic production or handling system plan to the certifying agency annually. The organic standards also require random testing for pesticide residues or environmental contaminants. Each certifying agency is required to test samples from at least 5% of the operations it certifies on an annual basis.


Is the meaning of the label consistent?

Yes.

Any product with a “made with organic [ingredients]” labeling claim must meet the USDA standards for food and agricultural products making this claim. All products have to contain at least 70% organic ingredients, and these have to be produced in accordance with federal organic standards.

Are the label standards publicly available?

Yes.

Standards are federal regulations available in the Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR 205).

Is information about the organization publicly available?

Yes.

The organic standards are federal regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA is a federal executive department. Information about the department’s leadership and financial information is publicly available at www.usda.gov.

Is the organization free from conflict of interest?

Yes.

Standards development: Yes. Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture involved in writing and updating the organic standards are subject to  the government’s conflict of interest rules.

Members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a civilian, multi-stakeholder group, advise the USDA on organic standards but do not have final decision making authority and are prohibited from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest.

Verification: Yes. The organic standards require that accredited certifying agencies prevent conflicts of interest in several ways, including not certifying an operation if the certifying agent has a financial interest in the operation.

Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?

Yes.*

Standards development: The organic standards are federal regulations, which are required by law to be shared with the public and opened for public comment before they are finalized and adopted. Before the organic standards were adopted in 2002, the public had multiple opportunities for public comment. The final standards addressed many of the concerns that had been raised by public comment.

Standards updates: Updates to the standards are typically reviewed and recommended by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member expert citizen panel that meets biannually to vote on recommendations. These meetings are open to the public, and citizens have the opportunity to comment both in writing before the meeting and in person during the meeting. The NOSB sends its recommendations to the National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agriculture, which again shares a draft of any proposed changes to the organic standards with the public, and accepts written public comments. 

*Note: There have been instances where the USDA has initiated policy changes (such as materials review) which have not gone through public notice and rule making — which have been opposed by several groups including Consumer Reports/Consumers Union.