USDA restricts use of 'organic' on food labels
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2014 - USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) has tightened its requirements for the use of brand or company names that contain the word “organic” on labels of packaged food products. Now only products certified as organic with the USDA may display a brand or company name using the term on the front of the package.
According to USDA, “the policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products.”
The new instruction does not allow a brand or company name with the word "organic" in it to be on the front of the package, or the Principal Display Panel, if the product falls below the 95 percent organic level.
USDA directs that agricultural products certified as “made with organic” -- made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients -- should not have brand or company names containing the term “organic” on the front display panel. These products may display the brand name with the term “organic” on the back of the package on the "information panel."
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said the NOP guidance was prompted by investigation that indicated the need for consistency by certifiers when reviewing product labels.
“We expect that the recommended policy will impact some organic labels currently in the marketplace,” OTA stated, noting that NOP included additional instruction to certifiers requesting they work with companies and use a “sound and sensible approach” that takes into account the time needed for certified operations to make label changes.
The organization said it has “long advocated” for consistent application of the organic regulations and it supports the guidance from NOP “that will help prevent the misrepresentation of a product's organic certification status.”
The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organization that supports the organic and small-farm movement, said some brands were “getting away with” misleading consumers by using the word organic in their trade name. In 2010, Cornucopia filed a legal complaint against Newman's Own Organics and some other brands for using the term on certain products, but USDA dismissed the complaint.
“Nothing happens too swiftly in Washington but we want to sincerely express our appreciation to the leadership and staff at the National Organic Program,” said Cornucopia co-founder Mark Kastel in a press release, adding that Cornucopia would be refiling the legal complaint.
Industry analysts estimate that U.S. organic food sales reached $28 billion in 2012, up 11 percent from 2011 and accounting for over 4 percent of total at-home food purchases.
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