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Label Lingo

We all see these labels every time we go to the store, but do we really know what they all mean?!

I decided to delve into this a little bit more. Here's what I found: In 2002, the USDA's National Organic Program standardized label lingo so that consumers would know that when one product claimed 'organic' it meant the same thing as another product labeled 'organic.' I found this graphic at, but will include the details below - just in case you can't read it clearly. This is important!

100% Organic: All ingredients must be certified organic and processing aids must be organic as well. The name of the certifying agent must be on the label which may carry the USDA Organic seal.

Organic: Products must contain at least 95% certified organic ingredients. The remaining 5% (except salt and water), along with any non-organic processing aids (such as chlorine to wash packaging equipment), must be from a national list of substances the USDA has approved for use in organics. The product may carry the USDA Organic seal.

Made with Organic: Packaging cannot include the USDA seal, but at least 70% of the product must be certified organic; nonagricultural ingredients must come from the national list. The quality of organic foods is high, even at 70%.

Organic Ingredients: Below 70% organic, the product cannot claim on its packaging that it's organic, except to list specific certified organic ingredients on the information panel.

Natural: The USDA says that meat, poultry, and eggs labeled with this word must have NO artificially ingredients and be minimally processed. But the term isn't defined beyond those items. You can assume that 'natural' is synonymous with 'conventional.'

Fair Trade: Non-government organizations certify that growers receive minimum prices and community support from buyers and followed specific environmental practices. Standards aren't as strict as for 'organic' designations.

Free-Range: Birds such as chickens are sheltered and have continuous access to the outdoors, along with unlimited access to food and water. However, these claims are not certified.

Cage-Free: Birds can freely roam inside a building or room with unlimited access to food and fresh water. They're without cages, but can still be packed very tightly even when organic.

Grass-Fed: Animals receive most of their nutrition from grass throughout their lives but may also eat hay or grain indoors during winter. Animals may still receive antibiotics and hormones, according to the USDA.

No Added Hormones: Already true of organic, so it's conventional producers who tend to use this term, but there's no certification for these claims.

What do you think? Did you already know these distinctions and nuances of some fairly common label-terms? It's never bad to get a refresher.


  1. This was extremely informative! You've taught me a lot about organic labeling. I will think twice now when I read an organic label and not take it for granted. Thank you!


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