Many people have questions about food labels and what they really mean. If you're curious about products labeled "natural" or "organic," you should know that the two designations are not created equally. Here's the scoop on what these designations really mean:
In the U.S., the organic designation is tightly controlled by federal regulations. For a product to be labeled organic, the United States Department of Agriculture requires that it is certified by its National Organic Program. Foods that are organic must be grown without the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, sludge-based fertilizers, ionizing radiation, antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs. Additionally, they have some animal welfare requirements and are likely to cause less environmental pollution. Products labeled "organic" must contain 95 percent organic ingredients and the remaining 5 percent of ingredients must be from an approved list.
There are a few other organic designations. Products labeled "100 percent organic" must be produced with entirely organic ingredients and meet the regulations listed above. Foods that say "made with organic ingredients" have less strict requirements. They must be made with food that is at least 70 percent organic, and none of the remaining 30 percent of ingredients can have been produced using ionizing radiation or sludge-based fertilizers. However, the other requirements are relaxed. Also, the USDA has strict requirements in the labeling on the foods' packaging, including the rule that the word "organic" and the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the products' "principal displays."
Many people think that organic and natural foods are the same but, though organic foods must go through a thorough certification and inspection process, "natural" is a label used more as a marketing term. Unlike organic foods, the labels "natural" and "all natural" are not tightly regulated. Producers must submit paperwork, but no inspections take place and thus no certification is required. The only requirements are that foods labeled "natural" are minimally processed and do not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives. What this means is that there is a wide variety of growing and processing methods for these types of foods. Natural and all-natural products can contain growth hormones, antibiotics and be grown with the use of toxic chemicals. There are no animal welfare requirements and products can be fertilized with sludge and irradiation methods.