Natural Medicine: What do organic food labels mean?
Organic food labeling can be confusing. "100 percent organic." "Organic." "Made with organic ingredients." "Contains organic ingredients." Which is better, a package of pancake mix "made with organic ingredients" or one that "contains organic ingredients?" What do all of these different labels mean?
The USDA's National Organics Program regulates the labeling of organic food products. Although "100 percent organic" and "Organic" may seem to mean the same thing to the average grocery shopper, they mean different things. Organics labels do not provide an explanation on the package, so the educated organics consumer must know the following to make informed decisions.
There are four separate and distinct organics labels:
"100 percent organic" refers to single ingredient foods, such as fruits and vegetables, meat, milk and cheese. This may bear the USDA Organic Seal.
"Organic" refers to multiple-ingredient foods (such as packaged foods) of which 95 to 100 percent are organic by weight. This also may bear the USDA Organic Seal.
"Made with organic ingredients" refers to multiple-ingredient foods of which 70 percent or more of the ingredients are organic. This claim may be printed on the front of the package, listing the specific organic ingredients, but may not bear the USDA Organic Seal.
"Contains organic ingredients" is a claim that may not be put on the front of a package and refers to a product that has less than 70 percent organic ingredients. It may not bear the USDA Organic Seal.
Armed with knowledge about organics labels, you can feel confident in making the food choices most appropriate for you and your family. For more information, go to the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service Web site at ams.usda.gov and click on "National Organic Program."
-- Jaimie Morgan, dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, M.S., R.D. dietetic internship director and associate professor at Bastyr University
Nonprofit, accredited Bastyr University (bastyr.edu) offers multiple degrees in the natural health sciences, and clinical training at Bastyr Center for Natural Health (bastyrcenter.org), the region's largest natural medicine clinic.