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The Organic Food Label, the Gateway to Higher Returns


The aim of organic farming is usually to generate products that can be, "certified organic," under the regulations of the governing bodies of the country where the product is produced. There is a growing market for certified organic foods and products and the potential return for both the farmer and the food process producer is usually much higher than for non-organic products.

Organic food in basketCertified organic or organic on the food label can however, mean slightly different things in different areas. Nonetheless, that official organic label is all important in order to achieve the extra revenue. In the EU, 95 per cent of a food product must contain organic agricultural ingredients; some regulations may be different depending on the member state. In Canada, while regulations are under review, the nation has similar standards for labeling as the EU.

In the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the authority that accredits state, private and foreign organizations as, "certifying agents." These agents certify that a farm and/or food processing operation meet U.S. organic production and handling practices set out in the national standard.

Under the auspices of the USDA the National Organic Program (NOP) working under the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) sets labeling requirements that apply to raw and fresh organic products in addition to processed products that are, "sold, labeled, or represented as organic;" operations that whose gross income from organic sales are $5,000 or less are exempt. In terms of labeling in the U.S. there are two that apply entirely to organic ingredients, "100 per cent organic," and, "organic."

Food in fridgeExcluding water and salt, the, "100 per cent organic," product label must contain 95 per cent organically produced ingredients; any other substances in the product must be on the national list of non-organic agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form. Aside from the ingredients of the product, a, "100 per cent organic," label will not be allowed if the production process involves sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation; a, "100 per cent organic," label may use the USDA seal and also the seal or mark of the certifying agent.

In order to apply the, "organic," label in the U.S, processed products must contain at least 70 per cent organic ingredients and the label can use the phrase, "made with organic ingredients," and can also list up to three organic ingredients or foods that principally make up the product. An, "organic," label may not use the USDA seal nor may the production process involve sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Furthermore, the seal or mark of the certifying agent must be used on the primary display panel. Other criteria and allowances for an, "organic," label include the address of the certifying agent, and any truthful claims about the product, such as, "free range." Any product that does not contain at least 70 per cent organic ingredients cannot be labeled, "organic," but can identify any organic ingredients on the label.

There are other labels too, for example, the USDA only regulates labels that include wording such as, "Natural", "All Natural", or "Naturally Raised," and similar in terms of meat and poultry, which means that there are no artificial ingredients or chemical preservatives. Processors that use the terms for other food products are setting their own definitions for natural. The, "Certified Naturally Grown," label is administered by the non-profit Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) program, which is based in the Hudson Valley of New York. Under the CNG program, the most notable difference to the NOP program is that the CNG sends other farmers to inspect farms.

Misleading labels as a practice can be expensive and knowingly mislabeling a food product is taken seriously. According to the USDA, there are civil penalties that could be imposed, currently up to $11,000, to any person that, "knowingly sells or labels as organic a product that is not produced and handled in accordance with the NOP's regulations."


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