Natural vs. Organic


Are Natural and Organic foods the same?

No. The term “natural” is not regulated except for meat and poultry. It applies broadly to foods that are minimally processed and free of synthetic preservatives; artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors and other artificial additives; hydrogenated oils; stabilizers; and emulsifiers. Most foods labeled natural are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and heath codes that apply to all foods. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requires natural meat and poultry to be free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and ingredients. These products must be minimally processed in a method that does not fundamentally change them. The label must also explain the use of the term natural such as no artificial ingredients. Labeling meat and poultry products natural does not refer to how the sources of those foods were raised, i.e. they can still contain hormones and antibiotics.

“Organic” refers not only to the food itself, but also to how it was produced. Foods labeled organic must meet or exceed the regulations of the National Organic Program (NOP), which took effect October 21, 2002.

They must be grown and processed using organic farming methods that recycle resources and promote biodiversity. Crops must be grown without using synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes, petroleum-based fertilizers and sewage sludge-based fertilizers. Organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and be given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic foods may not be irradiated.

How does the certification process work?

All organic production and handling operations must be certified by third parties accredited by the USDA. Producers that sell less than $5,000 worth of organic products a year do not have to be certified, although they must follow NOP requirements and document that they do so. The regulations require that products labeled:

  • “100 percent organic” contain only organic ingredients.
  • “Organic” contain at least 95 percent organic materials. Products in this or the first category can (but are not required to) display the USDA Organic.
  • “Made with organic ingredients” contain 70-95 percent organic ingredients and may list up to three of them.

Products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients may not use the term organic other than to list specific organic ingredients.