Are You Really Eating Organic? 25 Jul 12

Oy vey, it seems shoppers can’t trust any product labels, including the label, “organic.” Well, at least not entirely. It turns out, according to the FDA, there are different categories (grades) of organic food and all can be marked with a version of the organic label. This means you may have unwittingly bought packaged food you thought was 100% organic or meat you assumed was once happily roaming the range when, in fact, it only had some organic ingredients and its range was a small pen.

So, how can you really know what you’re buying? Here’s a quick explanation of the different meanings of organic as outlined by the FDA.

Organic Labels

Organic food should have one of three labels, which specify how organic it really is. They are:

· Certified Organic – 100% of the ingredients (except water and salt) are organic
· Organic – 95% of the ingredients (except water and salt) are organic
· Made with Organic Ingredients – 70% of the product’s ingredients are organic


If produce is marked as “USDA Organic” it is grown with sustainable farming practices and without pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. You can also check the item’s number label which should start with a “9″ (non-organic produce starts with a “4″).

Meat, Poultry, and Dairy

Livestock products labeled as “USDA Organic” must not have any hormones or antibiotics, be fed a diet of 100% organic feed, and have access to the outdoors. Of course, being “outdoors” is a lot different than roaming freely.

Grass Fed

In addition to the organic label, you may see meat marked as “grass fed.” This means the animal was raised on a range (was able to graze) as opposed to a feedlot; however, the size of the range is not specified and is not well regulated by the USDA. It’s also important to note that grass fed meat is not necessarily organic — if it is, it will have both labels.

Free Range and Cage Free

If food is labeled as “free range” or “cage free” then the animal was raised in a relatively large open area of land and not at all contained. Again, this designation is loosely regulated and some producers merely give their animals access to the outdoors while still keeping them predominantly confined.

Because some of these terms, like “free range,” are somewhat subjective, it’s always best to see the conditions of where your food was produced before buying. If possible, buy produce and meats from local providers where you can personally visit the farms and see firsthand the growing methods and treatment of the animals. Typically, those who use true organic, sustainable, and humane practices are proud of what they do and happy to give visitors tours.