The line between what food is considered organic vs. nonorganic can be a tricky one. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (USDA) has a strict set of standards for ingredients to qualify as organic, but the regulations don’t stop with the product.
Organic food labels are also judged by special regulations before they can wear the USDA organic seal. While general food and beverage labels must comply with the laws set by the USDA, any label with the term “organic” must also comply with the standards and regulations of the National Organic Program (NOP). NOP, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), sets some clear standards for which products can use the term “organic.”
Organic Labeling Regulations
Based on NOP, there are multiple levels of organic products depending on how much of a product is comprised of organic ingredients. If you are a farmer or food manufacturer, it’s important that you understand these organic labeling requirements so you can label your product properly.
100 percent organic
If a label says that a product is made of 100 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural), it means everything must follow organic standards. Most raw, unprocessed farm products can be labeled as “100 percent organic” as well as value-added farm products like grain flours and rolled oats.
If the product is certified as 100 percent organic, the label may include the USDA organic seal, which can be downloaded from the USDA site. In addition, all organic ingredients must be marked with an asterisk in the information panel.
If your product is nearly 100 percent organic, but just misses the mark, you may still be in luck. NOP allows products to identify as organic if they are made of at least 95 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). This means that up to 5 percent of your product’s ingredients may be nonorganic if they’re agricultural products that aren’t commercially available as organic and/or products on the Substances. Like 100 percent organic products, these labels may also use the USDA organic seal and must mark organic ingredients with an asterisk.
Made with organic ingredients
If a product is at least 70 percent organic, NOP does allow the label to read “made with organic _______” with up to three ingredients or ingredient categories at the end. However, it cannot state “made with organic ingredients” in general. The label must still mark the organic ingredients with an asterisk, but it can’t include the USDA organic seal.
Specific organic ingredients (Less than 70%)
If a product contains less than 70 percent organic ingredients, it cannot make any claims on the label about being organic. The only instance where the word organic may be used is in the ingredient statement (e.g., organic lemon).
No matter which specification level your product falls under, your products must be certified by the USDA before they can claim to be organic. To become certified, the farm or business must adopt organic practices and submit both an application and fee to a USDA-accredited certifying agent. These agents can be found through the USDA’s organic certifier locator. The agent will review to see if your practices comply with USDA organic regulations. In addition, an inspector will conduct an on-site inspection of your operation. After the inspection is done, a review should be completed within three months.
If the certifying agent and inspector both determine that you follow USDA organic regulations, you will receive organic certification. You may then label your product—or the ingredients contained in your product—as organic. If you aren’t certified, you can face a fine of up to $11,000 per violation for labeling a product as “organic” without meeting USDA standards.
There is an exception for certification. Any operations “whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less” are not required to become certified by an accredited agent before selling organic products. However, you still must comply with NOP’s production and labeling requirements to label products as any level of organic. You may also want to determine if your product meets the FDA guidelines for using “natural” on your food label.
Invest in Quality Organic Food Labels
Adhering to organic regulations can be tough, but it can be well worth it when the organic food and beverage market is expected to surpass $320 billion by 2025. However, a competitive market calls for more than labels that simply follow regulations. Your organic food labels are a chance to make your products stand out from the competition.
To appeal to health-conscious consumers, you need specialty food labels that represent your brand. As a full-service digital printing company, Blue Label gives you access to top-tier printing technology, even if you don’t want to order a huge run of labels. If you need a great design, our designer directory can help you find some talented professionals who can help you tell the story of your product. Once you have an approved design, we can work with you to print organic food labels that are deserving of the products you sell.
Contact us today to learn more about our special printing techniques and how we can help you with your organic food labeling project.