What is “organic”… really?
We live in a life where we hear the word “organic” associated with all kinds of things -- food, beauty/personal care products, pet products, cleaning products, clothing and more… I don’t know about you – but many of my clients are bombarded with information about foods and products with claims of being organic. It is often confusing and overwhelming. How do you know what is truly organic and what isn’t?
As with anything else, there are so many rules and regulations I couldn’t even begin to list them all… SO I am going to summarize the important details and narrow the focus down to agriculture items (i.e., food) and cosmetics/personal care products.
Let’s start with food.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has identified three categories of labeling organic products:
1. 100% Organic -- Made with 100% organic ingredients. This means ALL ingredients must be certified organic. Any processing aids must be organic and product labels must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel. These products may use the USDA organic seal and/or organic claim.
2. Organic -- Made with at least 95% organic ingredients. This means non-organic ingredients are allowed per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List) – up to a total of 5%. These products may use the USDA organic seal and/or organic claim.
3. Made With Organic Ingredients -- Made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients with strict restrictions on the remaining 30% including not allowing GMOs (genetically modified organisms), however they are not required to be organically produced. They must not include the USDA organic seal but can state “made with organic” on the packaging.
Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may list organically produced ingredients on the side panel of the package, but may not make any organic clams on the front of the package. Of course the USDA Organic Seal may not be displayed on the front or the side of the package.
I know… it is a lot of information to remember. Instead of remembering all of those details, you can just look for the USDA Certified Organic Seal and you will know which products are truly organic.
But how do you determine the organic quality of things that don’t come in a box and list ingredients? Things like produce?
Have you ever noticed the stickers the grocery store puts on produce? They are called the Price Look Up (PLU) stickers.
Non-organic produce will have 4 digits. Non-organic produce with five digits beginning with 8 means the item is genetically modified. If the produce is organic the code will contain five-digits beginning with 9.
So what about Cosmetics, Body Care Products and Personal Care Products? Are the same rules and regulations for food used in these types of products? Well… yes and no…
The USDA regulates the term “organic” as it applies to agricultural products (i.e., food). If a cosmetic, body care product or personal care product contains agricultural ingredients and can meet the USDA organic production, handling, processing and labeling standards, it may be eligible to be USDA Certified Organic.
It is pretty strict. Not only do the ingredients need to be organic, the operations which produce the ingredients, the handlers of the ingredients and the manufacturer of the final product all must be certified by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agent (and that process is not easy and very time consuming).
If certified by the USDA, the organic labeling categories described in the food section of this post apply.
Any of these types of products that do not meet the production, handling, processing, labeling and certification rules may not state in any way that the product is USDA-certified organic (or use the label).
ALERT - you may see companies using the “certified organic” terminology on their labeling… The USDA has no authority over the production and labeling of products that are not made up of food ingredients, or do not make any claims to meeting USDA organic standards. Companies can be certified by other private organizations and be marketed as organic. The standards used by private certifying organizations may or may not meet the USDA’s standards. You may or may not find organic ingredients mixed in with chemical ingredients…
So again,just like with food products, if you want to be sure you are using truly organic personal care products, look for the USDA certified organic label. If a personal care product company has gone through the rigorous process of getting certified and having their products certified – they are worth a look!
Please note – all products at a USDA certified manufacturer may not be “certified” organi