No Seal, No Purchase: How to Make Sure Your Product is Certified OrganicJessica Cohen
Not long ago it seemed that shopping for organic items was reserved for either the Birkenstock-wearers or the high-brow types. In recent years, however, we are learning more and more about the chemicals and pesticides used in conventional foods and as these data comes out, more people are turning towards organic options.
Ever since I began food shopping for myself, and then for my family, I shopped for organic foods, as well as those that are free of nitrates, chemicals, and any other potentially harmful additives. (Though I would certainly classify more as a health nut than a nature girl or the high society type.) To put it simply, the thought of what could be lurking in conventional food scares me. It grosses me out to think about putting those pesticides, hormones, or chemicals in my own body or in my children. Frankly, I am grateful that more companies are starting to recognize the importance of organic products for families like mine, and that it is getting easier to find great organic products on the shelves of the supermarket.
So, you may be wondering what exactly is “organic,” and how does that differ from labels that say “all-natural,” for instance?
To identify an organic product look for the seal! If a food item has the “USDA Organic” seal on its packaging, it has received a certification from a USDA approved certification agency. Each organic facility in the United States must renew its certification annually. An inspector conducts an on-site inspection, and then a certifier reviews the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA regulations. Here’s what you need to know about USDA certified organic products:
What does “organic” mean?
Organic food products do not contain hormones, chemicals, or other questionable synthetic substances.
At least 95% of the ingredients in the product must be organic in order for that product to receive the seal. An item may contain the USDA certified seal and also boast that it is 100% organic, meaning that every ingredient used to make the product is organic.
For eggs, dairy, and animal byproducts, the seal implies that the animals are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics, pesticides or hormones.
Fruits and vegetables with an organic seal are not grown using any fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, rodenticides, or any other synthetic agents.
But what about items that are do not have the USDA certified organic seal but have other health claims on their packaging? Here are some helpful tips:
- You may see an item that boasts that it is “Made with Organic Ingredients.” In order to use that claim, at least 70% of the ingredients used to make the product must be organic.
- Beware of the “All Natural” claim: There are numerous terms used on food packages for which the FDA has not set defined expectations or certifications. It is therefore up to the consumer to trust the manufacturer, because these statements have not necessarily been verified. Some of these commonly used claims are: “Natural” (as well as “All Natural” or “100% Natural”), “No Added Hormones,” “No Antibiotics,” and “No Artificial Ingredients.” For these items, you might want to read the ingredient list carefully and contact the company directly with questions.
- Another term used often lately is “GMO’s,” which stands for “genetically modified organisms.” These are genetically engineered plants and animals. Although considered by some to be made by nature, they have actually been chemically altered. A product cannot contain GMO’s if it contains the USDA certified organic seal. There is also an independent certification process for GMO-free foods that is growing in popularity. Foods items that contain a Non GMO Certified seal have gone through a verification process through the Non-GMO Project.
So there you have it. Does your family shop organic? If so, why is it organic to you?
Jessica also wrote:
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