What’s In A Label? Organic VS All-Natural


Are you confused when you go to the grocery store? Well, your not alone. Deciphering food labels and marketing claims can be challenging. Especially, when you have made a commitment toward avoiding GMO’s and living a healthier life. All-natural, organic, certified organic, and made with organic ingredients are common on labels, but they do not all mean the same thing.


Just because a product is labeled ‘natural or all-natural’ doesn’t mean it is necessarily free from MSG, GMO’s, added colors, artificial flavors and other synthetic substances.

Many products labeled as natural are made from or can contain many un-natural ingredients. The FDA has not objected to manufactures using these terms on their products, because from their standpoint it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly is natural. You see, when a food has been processed, it is no longer a product of the earth. This is why the FDA has not made a clear definition of what the terms natural or all-natural actually is.

Made With Organic Ingredients/***

When your making your way through the maize of organic labeling, you might see a product with the phrase ‘made with organic!’ This means that the product only contains at least 70% certified organic ingredients. Unfortunately, the other 30% is not required to be certified organic, including salt and water. The good news is that the FDA does require that the remaining 30% be free from GMO’s and other prohibited substances like synthetic pesticides. Made with organic is not allowed to have the USDA certified organic seal, but instead must obtain a secondary certifying agent that the USDA has accredited. The certifying agent must ensure the products meet or exceed all organic standards.


If you see a packaged product with the label organic, it means that the ingredients in the product must be at least 95% organically derived. To obtain the USDA organic seal the ingredients grown for the product must be free from ‘prohibited’ substances like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Although, the USDA does allow the use of some ‘approved’ synthetic substances.

Pheromones have been approved and are used as a sort of pesticide. Pheromones act by ‘confusing’ insects that infest organic crops such as fruit. Other approved synthetic substances are the ones found in vaccines. Vaccines are used on livestock that are considered to be organic. Other ingredients that may not be organic, but allowed in products are processing aids such as baking soda, enzymes, and pectin.

All approved and prohibited substances on the list are compiled from the NOSB, who advice the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), these are where the organic standards are established from. The NOSB meets every 2 years to review new items suggested for the list, but only reviews the entire list every 5 years.

The NOSB (National Organic Standard Board) is a federal advisory committee made up of people from the organic community, who are appointed by the secretary of agriculture. The committee members consist of four farmers/growers, three environmentalists/resource conservationists, three consumer/public interest advocates, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist (toxicology, ecology, or biochemistry) and one USDA accredited certifying agent.

100% Organic

Products that are labeled 100% organic also contain the USDA organic seal. Although, the processing aids must be organic along with the rest of the ingredients. 100% organic products are produced using the USDA’s approved synthetic substances. Click here for the list of approved and prohibited substances.

If you want to completely avoid eating foods raised without potentially toxic substances, then you may want to start growing your own food and raising your own animals. This obviously isn’t going to feasible for everyone, but what you can make a difference. Anyone and any organization can make a petition to amend the national list.  The NOSB must review all petitions when making a decision of their recommendation to USDA about adding, removing or changing substances on the list. With that said, don’t assume the process is easy by any means. Their is a lot of red tape to get through in just trying to get a substance eligible for petition. Remember you are still dealing with a committee at a federal level.

photo credit: freedigitalphotos.net  “Shopping For Goods” by Ambro

What are your concerns about organic labeling?  Let me know in the comments below.

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