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Barbara Haumann

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Organic Science Writer and Editor

Here, Barbara Haumann, Senior Science Writer/Editor at the Organic Trade Association, offers several tips to help you make sense of the USDA organic seal.

barbQ: What does the USDA Organic label mean?

BH: Backed by strict standards and regulations, the USDA Organic label is the gold standard of eco-labels. When it appears on a product, it means that the product has been produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones, antibiotics, sewage sludge, or genetic engineering. It also means that the product has been minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives, or irradiation.

 Q: Do all organic products carry the USDA Organic seal?

BH: No. There are four labeling categories for organic products, only twolabeling chart of which qualify for the seal:

  • 100 Percent Organic - may carry the USDA Organic seal
  • Organic - at least 95 percent of content is organic by weight (excluding water and salt). This also qualifies for the USDA Organic seal.
  • Made with Organic - at least 70 percent of content by weight is organic and the front product panel may display the phrase “Made with Organic” followed by up to three specific ingredients. Such products may not display the USDA Organic seal.
  • Less than 70 percent of content is organic may only list those ingredients that are organic on the ingredient panel with no mention of organic on the main panel. (Such products may not display the USDA Organic seal)


Q: What does it mean if a product is “made with organic ingredients?”

BH: In a product labeled as being made with organic ingredients, at least 70 percent of the content must be organic ingredients. Manufacturers may choose to include the actual percentage on the label.

Q: Aside from the organic label, is there any other way to tell that produce is organic?

BH: Look at the produce item's Price Look-Up (PLU) code. PLU codes appear on produce items sold at retail outlets. On conventionally grown produce, the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers. Organically grown products have a five-numeral PLU beginning with the number 9. For instance, the PLU for conventionally grown bananas is 4011. The PLU for organically grown bananas is 94011.


About Barbara Haumann:
Barbara Haumann is Senior Writer/Editor for the Organic Trade Association. She manages the publication of OTA’ s News Flash and member news magazine, The Organic Report, and frequently fields questions from the media. She has over 35 years of experience as a professional journalist and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

*Labeling chart courtesy of Go Organic! for Earth Day, www.OrganicEarthDay.org