USDA Issues Draft Guidance Concerning Organic Labeling

Jan 19, 2011   

The USDA recently announced the issuance of its draft guidance regarding the use of the term “organic” in food labeling. The draft guidance specifically addresses two issues in regards to labeling: the requisite organic ingredients for “made with organic” labeling, and the use of statements advertising the percentage of organic ingredients in final products.

First, the draft guidance details the different categories of organic products and the importance of this distinction in labeling. Under the USDAs National Organic Program (NOP), there are different levels of organic products, with the distinguishing factor being product composition. For instance, products that fall within the “made with organic” category must contain at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients. While a product that has 70 percent certified organic ingredients may be labeled as “made with organic,” the labeling cannot state “100% organic” or simply “organic” because it does not meet the requirements for this category.

In addition to explaining the applicability of the various terms and phrases for organic products, the USDA discussed the use of percentage statements in labeling. According to the draft guidance, a percentage statement, claiming a certain amount of specified organic ingredients, may not be made without the “made with organic” statement on products within this category. For instance, a product that is made with 70 percent certified organic fruit, thus qualifying for the “made with organic” category, may be labeled as being “made with 70 percent organic fruit.” While this percentage statement could not be used without the phrase “made with organic fruit,” the guidance points out that the “made with” statement could be made without reference to percentage, as this will not mislead consumers into believing that the product qualifies for the “organic” category.

With the issuance of this draft, the USDA is seeking comments regarding these issues to help refine its final guidance on this topic. Although only two main issues were specifically addressed by this document, the popularity of organic products and concerns regarding the accuracy of labeling by consumers and manufacturers will likely produce some interesting feedback for the USDA.

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