People often ask: what does it mean to be USDA Certified Organic? What makes something “organic”? Are “natural” and “organic” essentially the same thing? There are lots of misleading and erroneous information regarding the health value of products, and many companies are taking advantage of uninformed consumers.
What do the phrases “organic” & “natural” mean?
In very simple terms, “organic” refers to vegetation grown without the use of conventional pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and synthetic additives, and must not be processed using industrial solvents, irradiation, or genetic engineering (GMOs). “Natural” is a generic term that simply refers to anything that exists in nature. Both terms have been used interchangeably to convey the idea of positive health benefits without the use of chemical additives. However, the terms “organic” and “natural” are found on many products that do not come close to being pesticide or chemical-free. Companies often use deceptive packaging to mislead consumers; companies will intentionally embellish lesser organic ingredients in their products to justify using the word “organic” or “natural” on their labels.
Fortunately, there are legal restrictions on the use of the word “organic” on packages. Companies can claim “Made with Organic ingredients” but face hefty fines if there are not found in compliance to USDA regulations. (Despite these guidelines, many offenders on store shelves go unreported.)
The term “natural” is a bit more ambiguous and deceptive. When one hears the word “natural”, one assumes that the product was made in an idyllic setting, free from chemical contamination. However, there are no legal standards for use of the term “natural”, so many of the detriments of conventional farming are found with “natural” products. “Natural” products can still use toxic pesticides, GMOs, growth hormones, sewage sludge, and irradiation. Products are not followed from farm to table, thus there is no accountability regarding chemical contamination.
What Does it Mean to be USDA Certified Organic? Why is it Important?
To ensure that products have been cultivated, harvested, and handled according to a non-toxic standard, the U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces strict regulations regarding what can be truly considered organic and what cannot.
Simply put, if it does not have the USDA Organic Seal, there is no guarantee that the product has not been exposed to harmful, chemical contamination.
It is important to look for the USDA Certified Organic Seal, which is prominent on all certified products. The seal is trustworthy— organic operations must undergo annual audits, surprise inspections, sample collections for test analysis, and other rigorous compliance regulations to ensure the integrity of organic certified products. The USDA Seal represents a clear line of demarcation between trustworthy organic products and ones that attempt to misrepresent their synthetic offerings as healthy.
For more information on Organic Guidelines:
Labeling Organic Products USDA Organic Regulations from the US Department of Agriculture
Organic vs Natural A deeper look at the difference between organic, natural, and conventional products