Organic Rules?

By Charlie Nardozzi

When does "organic" not mean "organic?" When the labels aren't clear. The growth in the organic food industry continues to climb at about 20 percent per year. However, when shopping for organic food, the labels may not be telling you the whole story. Here are some examples of organic labels and what they really mean.

"100% Organic": No synthetic ingredients are allowed by law. Production must meet federal organic standards and be independently verified by inspectors.

"Organic": At least 95 percent of ingredients are organically produced. The remainder can be non-organic or synthetic ingredients. Yes, this means your "organically labeled" foods can have up to 5 percent non-organic ingredients in them. Organic labels on seafood are meaningless because the USDA has no standards for them.

"Made with Organic Ingredients": At least 70 percent of ingredients are organic.

"Free-range" or "free-roaming": Often seen on eggs, chicken, and other meats, this label suggests that an animal has spent a good portion of its life outdoors. But the standards are weak. For example, the rule for poultry products means that outdoor access is made available for "an undetermined period each day." So, if a coop door was open for just 5 minutes a day, regardless of whether the chickens went outside, the animals' meat and eggs could legally be labeled "free-range."

"Natural" or "All Natural": This label does not mean organic. There is no standard definition for this term except when it's applied to meat and poultry products, which the USDA defines as not containing any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients.

So when shopping for organic foods, know the rules of the labels before you buy. For more information, go to: Consumer Reports.

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