Q: When can the USDA organic seal be used?

A: The label is allowed on raw food and packaged products that are “100 percent organic” or “organic” from certified producers.

“Organic” products allow for up to 5 percent nonorganic ingredients. This is mainly involving materials used in processing packaged foods.

If the product is at least 70 percent organic, it cannot use the USDA seal, but it can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients.” If less than 70 percent, but still has some organic content, then it can only use the word “organic” to identify individual ingredients.

Q: What is organic?

A: Food “grown without the use of most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation,” the USDA rules state. Animals are not given antibiotics or growth hormones, and are supposed to have more access to the outdoors so that they can exhibit more of their natural feeding behavior. The complete rules are lengthy and vary depending on the type of operation.

Q: Who says it’s organic?

A: A USDA-accredited certifier, whose name should be on the product label or package.

Q: Who are the certifiers?

A: The USDA has accredited 96 certifying agencies, 56 in the United States and 40 in foreign countries. Some are state agencies, but most are private companies.

Q: What do certifiers do?

A: They hire inspectors, whether on staff or freelance, to visit organic farms, ranches, and processing plants and review operations, records, and workers. The inspectors report back to the certifying agent, which determines whether the operation complies with the USDA organic rules.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.