What you should know about organic foods

USDA Organic logo Only foods certified as at least 95 percent organic — that is, produced without most pesticides, toxic fertilizers, growth hormones and antibiotics — will be allowed to carry the official “USDA ORGANIC” seal, according to USDA rules that were standardized in 2002.

The USDA seal ensures consumers are purchasing a product that is truly organic rather than a creatively worded package that advertises itself as organic when only a few ingredients actually qualify.

There are four categories of organic foods that determine how they are labeled.

  • Food that is 100 percent organic may carry the new “USDA ORGANIC” label and say “100% organic.”
  • Food that is at least 95 percent organic may carry the new seal.
  • Food that is at least 70 percent organic will list the organic ingredients on the front of the package.
  • If a product is less than 70 percent organic, the organic ingredients may be listed on the side of the package but cannot say “organic” on the front.

Before a product can be labeled “organic,” an inspector visits the farm where the food is produced to make sure the farm meets USDA standards. The national organic program rules prohibit the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum- or sewage-sludge-based fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation and synthetic substances. Foods certified as organic must be produced using growing methods that minimize soil erosion and that maintain or enhance the fertility of the soil. Organic farms need to prove that these materials have not been used for at least three years. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones, must be fed organic feed and have access to the outdoors.

Organic produce is the best way to minimize your intake of food-borne toxins and be assured of good nutrition.