The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program and organic labeling in the United States. The National Organic Program is a regulatory program housed within USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, which sets standards for organically produced agricultural products. These standards do not address food safety or nutrition, as these issues are within the regulatory oversight of FDA or other USDA programs. The statutes under which the National Organic Program operates are found here.
When a company wants to use organic labeling or label a product in a way that promotes the use of to organic ingredients, they may use the phrase, “made with organic ____” in labeling if the product meets the requirements set out in the statutes. First, the USDA must certify operations that grow, handle, or process organic products as organic. In other words, the producer of the organic material must be certified as “organic” by the USDA. Subpart E of the National Organic Program governs organic certification.
Foods that are labeled with the “Made with organic” language must comply with strict requirements. First, they contain at least 70% organic ingredients, 7 CFR § 205.301(c). As opposed to organic labeled foods, this means that a “Made with organic ____” product may contain a maximum of 30% nonorganic ingredients, as set forth in the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Products, codified at 7 CFR § 205.605. Further, these types of products must not contain any ingredient made using any of the prohibited methods as listed in 7 CFR § 205.105.
Products are only allowed to list three (3) ingredients, food groups, or combination of ingredients and food groups after the “Made with organic ____” statement. A generic “Made with organic ingredients” statement is prohibited. There are also many other restrictions on the types of labeling allowed with organic ingredients. For example, when a product uses organic and inorganic versions of the same ingredient, the ingredients must be listed separately on the ingredients list. Further, specific ingredients cannot have their own “percent organic” label. A label that includes “100% organic sugar” is in violation of the National Organic Program. For more examples of prohibited labels and how to fix labeling problems, the USDA has produced a guidance document, or explanatory document setting forth the Agency’s current policy on the topic.
If a company wants to include a food group-specific label claim on their “Made with organic” statement, the only food groups that can be listed are beans, fish, fruits, grains, herbs, meats, nuts, oils, poultry, seeds, spices, sweeteners, vegetables, or processed milk. All other food groups are prohibited to be listed as “Made with organic” as described in 7 CFR § 205.304. In addition, these label claims must be truthful. As with other ingredients, if it is going to be included as a “Made with organic” ingredient, all raw and processed forms of that ingredient must be certified organic.
The world of organic labeling is ever-changing and has very specific requirements. Labeling your product is a very complex task and doing so incorrectly can result in penalties ranging from suspension to rejection of the company’s organic status. Knowingly selling a product labeled as organic or with some form of organic labeling that does not comply with the organic labeling regulations can result in fines of up to $11,000 per violation. For questions regarding organic labeling and for inquiries about label reviews of your product labels, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.