USDA Implements New Standards For Organic Foods

Date: Feb 01, 2002

The final rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding organic foods goes into effect later this month. It establishes new standards for organic food products and defines how and when foods may be represented on the package and in marketing materials as "organic" in the U.S. Full implementation is expected over the next year and a half.

This rule identifies four categories of products that may be represented as organic or containing organic ingredients:

  1. 100% organic products may be marketed as "100% Organic";

  2. products with no less than 95% organic ingredients may be marketed as "Organic";

  3. products that contain 70-95% organic ingredients may be marketed as "Made with Organic (specified organic ingredients)," naming up to three specific organic ingredients on the product's principal display panel (PDP); and

  4. products that are less than 70% organic may identify specific organic ingredients only in the list of ingredients.

Possible consumer misperception?

In response to concerns from some food processors that consumers may believe "organic" food to be safer or more nutritious than conventional food, USDA has redesigned and simplified the USDA organic seal that may be displayed on certified organic products. USDA has emphasized that the organic rule is simply a marketing standard and that is not intended to address food safety concerns or convey a message of superiority. Nonetheless, certain segments of the food processing industry remain concerned that consumers will view "organic" food as having a USDA stamp of approval and wholesomeness.

Finally, as expected, the rule prohibits the use of products of biotechnology, ionizing radiation and sewage sludge in the production of organic products. The prohibitions on biotechnology and ionizing radiation have been criticized as being without scientific justification, but USDA has taken the position that consumers do not expect organic foods to be produced with the use of such technologies.

Used with permission. Copyright, February, 2001.

For further information about this article, please contact George G. Misko at 202-434-4170 or by e-mail at misko@khlaw.com.