ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Organic Labeling Standards, It’s All in the Name

New York, Apr 24, 2007

From fresh produce to canned soup, the organic market accounts for the most rapidly growing sector in the food industry. Once a niche product sold only in specialized markets, organic food is now available in nearly three-quarters of conventional grocery stores nationwide. But for consumers, the rapid rise of the industry has left many confused about what “organic” really means.

In the United States, organic food is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its National Organic Program (NOP). The program establishes standards for the production and handling of organically produced fresh and processed agricultural food products, including crops and livestock.

According to the NOP, organic food differs from conventionally produced food in the way it is grown, handled, and processed. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Additionally, these animals must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. To qualify as organic, crops are raised without using genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, or most conventional pesticides.

To help consumers determine the organic content of the food they purchase, USDA has developed strict labeling standards. Only products that are made with at least ninety-five percent organically produced materials may display the USDA Organic seal. Products containing less than seventy percent organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the product side panel, but may not make organic claims on the front of the package. Suppliers that misleadingly label a product can be fined up to $11,000 for each violation.

Before a product can be labeled organic, a government-approved certifier inspects a farm to make sure all agricultural practices meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it is sent to supermarkets and restaurants must also be certified by a USDA-accredited certifier. When seeking certification, applicants must submit an organic system plan detailing substances used in production, record keeping procedures, as well as practices used to prevent commingling of organic and non-organic products.

The NOP does not apply to any non-agricultural products such as organic health and beauty products. American National Standards Institute member NSF International has taken up the mantle and is currently working on a standard that will define criteria for products not covered under the NOP that are to be certified organic. When complete, BSR/NSF QAI 305-200x, Non-agricultural Organic Products, may cover dietary supplements, personal care and cosmetic products, pet food, aquaculture products and articles made with organic fibers.

NSF certifies products and writes standards for food, water, air and consumer goods. As an ANSI-accredited standards developer, NSF International develops standards according to the Institute’s essential requirements for openness, balance, consensus and due process.

For more information on USDA’s organic labeling requirements, please visit

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