Just what does it mean when a food is labeled organic? The U.S. Department of Agriculture finally issued a new national seal designed to bring clarity and assurance to consumers that foods bearing the seal are certified organic following USDA standards which were 10 years in the making.
Beginning Oct. 21, only foods certified as at least 95 percent organic - that is, produced without most pesticides, toxic fertilizers, growth hormones and antibiotics - will be allowed to carry the official "USDA organic" seal.
One caveat: The new rules apply only to food produced on or after Oct. 21, so it may be several months before the seal becomes commonplace in grocery aisles, particularly on packaged foods where the turnover is slower.
The new USDA national standards replace what had been a mishmash of certification systems run by individual states and private groups. The USDA seal will ensure consumers are actually purchasing a product that is truly organic rather than a creatively worded package that advertises itself as organic when only a few ingredients actually are.
Under the new rules, foods will be labeled as belonging to one of four categories:
1. Food that is 100 percent organic may carry the new "USDA organic" label and say "100% organic."
2. Food that is at least 95 percent organic may carry the new seal.
3. Food that is at least 70 percent organic will list the organic ingredients on the front of the package.
4. If a product is less than 70 percent organic, the organic ingredients may be listed on the side of the package but cannot say "organic" on the front.