Organic Associations and Standards
Q. What types of products can become certified organic?
A. Any organic product that meets or exceeds National Organic Program certification requirements may be considered for organic certification. Organic products can include foods ranging from canned products to fresh produce, meats, poultry, and bakery products, to beverages such as juices and milk. Personal care products and many others.
Q. How can QAI assure consumers that its certification mark means that proper organic integrity has been maintained?
A. QAI is a USDA-accredited certifying agency. The USDA National Organic Program directly oversees all USDA certifying agents by conducting surveillance of products on the shelf that containing organic labels and conducting unannounced inspections at certifying agents' places of business. These steps ensure that QAI and all certifying agencies are following the strictest guidelines and best practices under the National Organic Program.
Q. Can you help me understand certain organic claims? For example, what is the difference between 100% Organic vs. Made with Organic?
A. Yes. There are four types of organic claims:
- Products labeled "100 Percent Organic" must show an ingredients list, the name and address of the handler (bottler, distributor, importer, manufacturer, packer, processor, etc.) of the finished product, and the name/seal of the organic certifier.
- Products labeled "organic" must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. The label must contain an ingredient list that identifies the organic, as well as the non-organic ingredients in the product and the name of the organic certifier.
- Products labeled "Made with Organic (specified ingredients or food groups)" must contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients. The label must contain an ingredients list that identifies the organic, as well as the non-organic ingredients in the product, along with the name of the organic certifier.
- If a product contains less than 70 percent organic ingredients, the product can make an ingredient panel only claim, i.e. where the organic ingredients are specified on the ingredient panel. These products cannot use the word "organic" on the principal display panel or display any certifier seals.
Q. Are products labeled "natural" the same as "organic?"
A. No. Natural and organic are not interchangeable terms. The term "natural" suggests that products have been minimally processed or are free from synthetic ingredients but this is not currently a federally regulated labeling claim. Only products that have been certified as meeting USDA organic standards can be labeled "organic." Other claims, such as free-range, hormone-free, and natural can still appear on product labels. However, such claims should not be confused with the term "organic."
Q. Who regulates certified organic claims?
A. The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) established standards for the production, processing and certification of organic food. The National Organic Standards Board develops and updates guidelines and procedures to regulate organic production standards. The National Organic Program (NOP) is responsible for developing and implementing the federal organic standards. The NOP also accredits state and nonprofit agencies and private organizations seeking to certify organic producers and handlers and also oversees enforcement of the standards.
Q. What is the National Organics Standard Board?
A. The National Organics Standard Board (NOSB) assists the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in developing standards for substances and practices to be used in organic production. The NOSB also advises the Secretary on other aspects of implementing the National Organic Program.
The NOSB consists of 15 Congressional appointee members from all four U.S. regions:
- Farmers/growers (4)
- Handlers/processors (2)
- Retailer (1)
- Scientist (1)
- Consumer/public interest advocates (3)
- Environmentalists (4)
- A USDA-accredited certifying agent (1), a position currently held by QAI
Source: USDA National Organic Program
Q. What is the National Organic Standard?
A. The National Organic Standard (NOS) is a federal regulation created by the USDA and administered by the National Organic Program (National Organic Program) to:
- Develop and implement national standards governing the marketing of agricultural products as organically produced;
- Facilitate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced;
- Ensure consumers that such products meet consistent standards.
Source: USDA National Organic Program
Q. Can you provide some background on organic regulations?
A. Yes. Organic production has been practiced in the United States since the late 1940s. Since then, the industry has grown from experimental garden plots to large farms with surplus products sold under a special USDA organic label. Food manufacturers have developed organic processed products and many retail marketing chains specialize in the sale of "organic" products. This growth stimulated a need to somehow verify that products were indeed produced according to certain standards. Thus, the organic certification industry evolved.
Today, there are 55 domestic USDA accredited certifying agencies (ACAs) and 42 foreign ACAs, for a total of 97 accredited certifying agencies for organic products sold in the U.S.
Q. Can personal care products make organic labeling and marketing claims?
Yes. If the personal care products meet the requirements of the National Organic Program for organic food production, then they may be certified to the USDA standard. Additionally, there is a new voluntary NSF /ANSI Standard 305: Contains Organic Ingredients for Personal Care Products, which specifies materials, processes, production criteria, and conditions that shall be met in order for personal care products to make organic label and marketing claims. Products covered by the standard include rinse-off and leave-on personal care and cosmetic products, as well as oral care and personal hygiene products. The National Organic Program has traditionally been considered a food label claim standard, and the NSF/ANSI 305 Contains Organic Personal Care standard allows for certain chemical processes and ingredients common in the personal care industry that aren't permitted in the National Organic Program. However, to support organic agriculture, NSF 305 requires that these ingredients be organically derived.