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National Standards for Organic Foods

Organic Food Legislation

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 requires certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) before farms or processors can label their agricultural products as organic. In 2001, the USDA implemented the National Organic Program, which defines the term “organic.” The program also specifies the methods, practices and substances that can be used in producing and handling organic crops and livestock. These standards also apply to processed products.

Organic Food: A Growing Industry

During the 1990s, organic farming was a fast growing segment of the U.S. agriculture industry. Organic farming is seen as a way to reduce costs and boost farm income by capitalizing on high market prices. In 2001, the organic food industry in the United States had retail sales of $9.5 billion. As of 2003, 12,200 farmers, or about one-half of one percent of all farmers in the United States, were certified organic. It is projected that there will be 100,000 certified organic farmers by 2013.

Labeling Organic Foods

The USDA seal guarantees that any product carrying the seal is truly organic. The USDA rules allow the following labeling:

  • Food that contains only organically produced ingredients can say “100 % organic.”
  • Foods that contain at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients can carry the official “USDA organic” seal.
  • Foods that contain at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients can say “made with organic ingredients” and list the organic ingredients on the package front.
  • Foods that contain less than 70 percent organically produced ingredients cannot use the word “organic” on the package front but can list the organic ingredients on the ingredients statement.

Organic Farming Methods and Practices

The USDA’s rules prohibit the use of conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage-sludge fertilizers, bioengineering, ionizing radiation, and synthetic substances. Organic farms must prove these prohibited substances have not been used on the land for the past three years. The use of growth hormones and antibiotics is prohibited in organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Livestock must be given organic feed and be allowed outdoors. There are penalties for selling or labeling products as “organic” if they are not.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.