What does the USDA Organic label really mean? Top 5 questions we are a - Verdant Kitchen
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What does the USDA Organic label really mean? Top 5 questions we are asked.

USDA Organic
There is a lot of bad information about the word "organic" and what the USDA Organic seal means on a label. At Verdant Kitchen, we have managed three separate USDA Organic locations including our growing farm, our on-farm processing, and our production facility. We have learned a lot over the years about what it does and does not mean.
You can see our range of USDA Organic products here.

Here are the top 5 questions we are asked:

1. Why do organic products cost more than regular products?

2. Can I trust the USDA Organic Certificate?

3. Do organic products have more nutrients and better flavor?

4. Are USDA Organic products only grown and made in the USA?

5. Can any product be made organic?


Let's start with a bit of background. The United States Department of Agriculture has developed the USDA Organic program. Here are the key players:

United States Department of Agriculture - they develop the rules with industry and expert input. They train and license companies who act as independent Auditors and other companies that act as Auditors of the Auditors. They issue traceable and numbered annual certificates. 

Auditors - private companies and not for profits who are experts at the rules. They inspect certificate holders and applicants to certify and annually to recertify. 

Auditors of Auditors - work with the Auditors to check their work and make random inspections of certificate holders.

Certificate Holders - they are companies just like Verdant Kitchen who grow and make USDA Organically Certified products for sale to the public.

To be a USDA Certified product and carry the USDA Organic logo the product must be:

- Made by a company who has been certified by an auditor.

- The auditor has inspected the company and all of its growing and processing facilities and its detailed records.  The Auditor ensures that the certificate holder complies with all of the rules have paid their fees, and has issued an annual certificate.

- The specific product that carries the USDA Organic logo is listed on the certificate.

For a product to carry the USDA Organic logo every company in the chain and every raw material, facility, and process, from growing,  to harvesting too, transportation and manufactures all must have a USDA Organic certificate.

The whole idea behind the USDA Organic program is to build a trusted process where the customer can buy a product with confidence knowing that it has not been grown or processed or had added to it non-natural fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or additives. That it does not contain GMO or irradiated products and that at every step care was taken not to cross contaminate the USDA Organic product with noncertified materials. If the product is from an animal it must have been raised humanely. 


So with that weighty background of paperwork let's go back and look at the questions.

I'll group the first two together.

1. Why do organic products cost more than regular products?

2. Can I trust the USDA Organic Certificate?

Sales of Certified Organic products continue to grow every year. Several years ago Organic products cost up to 20-30% more than a similar non-organic equivalent. Today that price premium has decreased as growers and manufacturers have better understood the process and improved on it. 

USDA Organic products cost more for three main reasons a) The certification process is expensive in time and dollars and this is added to the cost of the products b) The yields of organic products are less and the cost are more. You can grow more tomatoes or ginger of corn or kale if you kill the bugs and weeds with synthetic chemicals and grow large areas of crops with fewer losses. That results in higher costs for lower harvests. c) Organic products often do not keep as long or as well without synthetic preservatives and often requires more expensive transport and storage. So yes those costs are often much higher and they are passed on in the products that you buy.

Can you trust the USDA Organic seal - YES! Sure there are people always trying to scam the system and especially when you can get a higher price for a non-organic version. But the program run by the USDA has real teeth. Get caught cheating and you will have your certificates withdrawn and you can be prosecuted and face jail.

3. Do organic products have more nutrients and better flavor?

Not necessarily. It is better to think of what organic products "do not contain". You could grow a very tasty piece of Turmeric, packed with flavor and nutrients but coated in fungicides. 

4. Are USDA Organic products only grown and made in the USA?

NO! Check the country of origin. The USDA certifies Auditors outside of the US who then inspect and certify growers and processors from all over the world. Only purchase products from countries that you believe have food and health standards that meet your needs.

5. Can any product be made organic?

NO - there are categories of products like cosmetics and personal care that are not as regulated as food and supplements that often do not get certified. There are also products such as Honey where it is difficult to know exactly where the bees have been on their nectar gathering and also other wild sources of fish where the same issue applies. It is often up to the Auditor to satisfy themselves that the products meet the rules.


Is the USDA Organic system perfect - no, but it is a great guide to point you towards products that have been grown and made with care by people who have gone to significant expense and time to deliver a high-quality uncontaminated product. Choose what you consume wisely and use the USDA Organic seal as a good choice as you build and maintain a strong active life.



Ross Harding
Ross Harding


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