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What does it mean to be USDA Organic?

by Cordelia & Patrick Mordi

If you live in the United States, you’ve likely heard the term “organic.” Maybe you’ve seen the green “USDA Organic” seal on product labels at the grocery store.

The USDA Organic seal is printed on organic products like food, wine, personal care products, and cotton products.

But how does a product qualify as organic? And what does organic actually mean?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a specific set of standards that a product must meet to be considered organic and have the green USDA Organic seal printed on the product label.


The USDA Organic seal means that the product was:

  • grown and processed organically
  • made of, or made with, approved substances
  • USDA verified
  • made up of at least 95% organic ingredients

So what does this mean for consumers like you and me?

USDA Organic means that the food or agricultural product was produced through approved methods and practices. According to the USDA, these approved methods use practices that promote ecological balance and biological diversity, as well as the cycling of resources.

Organic products can’t be grown with synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering. They can’t use artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Instead, organic products are grown or cultivated using non-toxic methods that are more in tune with the earth. Organic growing methods are better for maintaining natural resources, healthy soil, and water quality than conventional growing methods. Also, organic products cannot contain any genetically modified organisms (GMOs).


Why is there an organic certification by the USDA?

The USDA organic certification is in place because there are always changes in agriculture practices, and farmers and growers must continue to adapt their practices to comply with the USDA’s requirements.

You can’t just take someone’s word for it. If there wasn’t an organic certification, anyone could call their product organic even if it wasn’t.

The USDA Organic certification holds farmers and growers accountable. It makes sure that the practices used for raising animals for organic meat, dairy, and eggs, or growing organic ingredients for personal care products are held to strict standards. Any farm or business that claims their product is organic is reviewed each year to make sure they’re upholding the USDA Organic standards.


The benefit of organic ingredients in cosmetics

The benefits of organic ingredients in food can be more obvious because they’re consumed. But remember that the skin is the largest organ in the body! Skin absorbs a large percentage of the ingredients that we put on it. This is why it’s beneficial to have organic ingredients in cosmetics as well.

Organic ingredients are more gentle on skin, are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions, and are non-toxic. Organic ingredients are natural, don’t contain harmful substances, and are generally healthier and safer for use on the body.


What are the requirements for USDA Organic certification?

USDA Certified Organic product producers have gone through a stringent process to get this certification. It’s not handed out to just anyone!

A product must contain at least 95% organic ingredients to qualify for the USDA Organic certified label. A product must have 100% organic ingredients to qualify for the USDA Organic certification plus the ability to have the words “100% organic” on their label. But, products without the USDA Organic seal can still use organic ingredients and methods.

The USDA doesn’t regulate organic cosmetics separately from food. This means that for a cosmetic product to claim the USDA Organic seal, it needs to meet the same strict requirements as organic foods.

Due to these strict requirements, many cosmetic products that include organic ingredients can’t legally be labeled as certified organic. But, cosmetic products that use organic ingredients are certainly beneficial compared to products without organic components. It’s important to look at your ingredients labels and check for organic ingredients.

Helping the earth by choosing organic products

People who care about doing better for the planet should remember to choose certified organic products and products made with organic ingredients. Organic products help the earth because they use natural ingredients that are less toxic than conventional products and they support the health of animals, plants, and natural resources.

The next time you’re shopping for a new cosmetic or body product, take a look at the packaging. Notice whether you see the USDA Organic seal on the package. If you don’t see the seal, look for the word “organic” in the ingredients list. If you don’t see any organic ingredients, pass on the product and keep looking until you find one with organic ingredients. There are so many great products with organic ingredients on the market, so you’re sure to find one that works for you!
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