Organic

What it is: This term means that a product has been produced according to the standards in the Organics Foods Production Act (OFPA).68 Generally, a producer will not be able to use this term unless they or their supplier are certified as organic by the USDA under the National Organics Program. The exception to this general rule is that small organic farmers who sell less than $5,000 per year may use the term without being certified, but must still comply with the requirements of the OFPA.69

Required: No.

OFPA Standards/Requirements: If a product is labeled as organic then it has been produced under the following standards. (This is a simplified version of the OFPA requirements, for more detailed information please refer to the Guide for Organic Crop Producers.)

(1) Organic System Plan—An organic producer must develop an organic production or handling system plan that includes: (a) a description of practices and procedures; (b) a list of each substance used in production; (c) a description of monitoring practices and procedures; (d) a description of recordkeeping practices; (e) a description of management practices and physical barriers established to prevent commingling or organic and non-organic products; and (f) additional information as necessary to insure compliance.70

(2) Land Use Requirements—There are several requirements regarding how farmers can manage their land, soil, and crop nutrients. Those include:71

(3) Seeds—The farmer must use organically grown seeds and cannot use genetically engineered seeds or crops. There are a few exceptions to this requirement.73

(4) Pest Control—Farmers are required to use management practices to prevent crop pests, weeds, and disease. However, the methods that can be used are limited to:74

Specific Requirements:75 There are four different terms that can be used on a food label to designate compliance with the National Organic Standards: (1) 100% Organic, (2) Organic, (3) Made with Organic _____, and (4) Made with specific organic ingredients. Each of these terms signifies different things, as explained below. However, if the “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic _____” label is on a food product then the following production methods were not used in the production of the product or any of its ingredients, even the non-organic certified ingredients:

“100% Organic”—This label can only be used with raw or processed agriculturale products. This label means that the product contains 100% certified organic ingredients, excluding water and salt. If a product is labeled “100% Organic” it will likely also be labeled with the USDA Organic seal. Most raw or value-added agriculture products that have no added ingredients, for example, rolled oats or flour, can be designated with this label. If this label is on a processed product, it means that all ingredients and processing aids are certified organic.

“Organic”—This label can be used with raw agricultural or processed agricultural products. This label means that the product contains at least 95% certified organic ingredients, excluding water and salt. The remaining 5% of the ingredients must be either (1) organically produced or (2) if not commercially available in organic form, non-organic products produced consistent with the National List (Section 205.605 and 205.606). If a product is labeled “Organic” it can also be labeled with the USDA Organic seal. A product can still be labeled organic if it contains pesticide residues at or below five percent of the EPA’s set tolerances so long as the farmer has not directly applied the pesticides and they are present as the result of drift from a neighboring farm.76

Gluten Free

What it is: This term means the food must not contain ingredients that are derived from gluten (e.g., containing grains or if the use of the ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more in the final food product. 77. Manufacturers may still use the claim if a gluten containing ingredient (e.g., wheat flour) has been included in the product, but has been refined to remove the gluten to less than 20 ppm.

Required: No. Manufacturers are permitted to use this language on their label so long as they comply with the requirements in the FDA’s rule pertaining to labeling products “gluten-free.”

Specific requirements: Manufacturers are prohibited from using language that states “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or “without gluten” to meet this standard.

No Trans Fats

What it is: Manufacturers are permitted to make claims on their labels about whether a product meets the legal standard of having no trans fat.78 They can make these claims if the amount of trans fat present in the product is less than 0.5 grams.

Required: Yes and no.

Specific requirements: Manufacturers may make certain voluntary claims about the amount of trans fat in a product in accordance with the above. However, the terminology “no trans fat” is not specifically included in the regulations that address this claim. Manufacturers are required to list the presence of trans fats in foods on the nutrition panel. However, if the amount is less than 0.5 grams, they may list the content as 0 grams.79

Natural Flavor80

What it is: This means that the component of the product whose significant function is flavoring, as opposed to nutritional, is derived from one of the following sources: (1) a spice; (2) fruit or fruit juice; (3) vegetable or vegetable juice; (4) edible yeast; (5) herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material; (6) meat; (7) seafood; (8) poultry; (9) eggs; or (10) dairy products. The significant function in the food must be for flavoring, and not nutritional purposes.

Required: No. Importantly, the manufacturer is not required to disclose the source of the natural flavor. If it falls into one of the categories listed above, the manufacturer can simply list “natural flavors” in the ingredients list.

Fresh81

What it is: This terms means that the food is unprocessed, in its raw state, and has not been subject to any thermal processing or any other form of preservation. A product can still be labeled as fresh if coated in approved waxes, sprayed post-harvest with approved pesticides, rinsed in a mild chlorine or mild acid wash, or treated with ionizing radiation.

Required: No.

Non-GMO / GMO Free / Non-GE / GE Free

What it is: This has not been defined by the FDA. In fact, the FDA has recently issued guidance stating that they consider these terms to be misleading on most foods.82 Food producers use these terms to communicate to consumers that certain products do not contain genetically engineered crops. Any producer can use these terms without pre-approval by the FDA.

The FDA considers misleading any label that implies that food without genetically engineered ingredients is in any way superior to those products without a similar label. However, a product can still be labeled in this manner if it contains 5% or less of genetically engineered material present in the product as the result of drift or crop contamination.

Required: No.

Made with Organic...

What it means: This label is used with processed or multi-ingredient products. This label means that the product contains at least 70% certified organic ingredients, excluding water and salt. The remaining ingredients are not required to be certified organic but they cannot be produced using the prohibited methods listed above. The USDA Organic seal will not be present on these products.

Specific Organic ingredients—This label is used with processed or multi-ingredient products. This label means that the product contains less than 70% certified organic ingredients, excluding water and salt. Only the specified ingredient must be certified organic. Unlike the “Made with Organic _____” label, the non-organic ingredients do not need to be produced and handled in any particular way. The USDA Organic seal will not be present on these products.