In the United States, federal legislation defines three levels of organic foods. Products made entirely with certified organic ingredients and methods can be labeled "100% organic," while only products with at least 95% organic ingredients may be labeled "organic." Both of these categories may also display the USDA Organic seal. A third category, containing a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, can be labeled "made with organic ingredients," but may not display the USDA Organic seal. In addition, products may also display the logo of the certification body that approved them. Similar percentages and labels apply in the EU.
Products made with less than 70% organic ingredients can not be advertised as "organic," but can list individual ingredients that are organic as such in the product's ingredient statement.
In the U.S., the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 "requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which identifies synthetic substances that may be used, and the nonsynthetic substances that cannot be used, in organic production and handling operations."
Also in the U.S., the Secretary of Agriculture promulgated regulations establishing the National Organic Program (NOP). The final rule was published in the Federal Register in 2000. It restricts the use of the term "organic" to certified organic producers (excepting growers selling under $5,000 a year, who must still comply and submit to a records audit if requested, but do not have to formally apply). Certification is handled by state, non-profit and private agencies that have been approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
One of the first organizations to carry out organic certification in North America was the California Certified Organic Farmers, founded in 1973. Some retailers have their stores certified as organic handlers and processors to ensure organic compliance is maintained throughout the supply chain until delivered to consumers, such as Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers a 60-year old chain based in Colorado.
Organic foods are foods that are produced using methods of organic farming – that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Organic foods are also not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.
The organic farming movement arose in the 1940s in response to the industrialization of agriculture known as the Green Revolution. Organic food production is a heavily regulated industry, distinct from private gardening.
Currently, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and many other countries require producers to obtain special certification in order to market food as organic within their borders. In the context of these regulations, organic food is food produced in a way that complies with organic standards set by national governments and international organizations.
Organic certification is a certification process for producers of organic food and other organic agricultural products. In general, any business directly involved in food production can be certified, including seed suppliers, farmers, [food] processors, retailers and restaurants.
Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging and shipping that include:
- no human sewage sludge fertilizer used in cultivation of plants or feed of animals
- avoidance of synthetic chemical inputs not on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc.), genetically modified organisms, irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge;
- use of farmland that has been free from prohibited synthetic chemicals for a number of years (often, three or more);
- keeping detailed written production and sales records (audit trail);
- maintaining strict physical separation of organic products from non-certified products;
- undergoing periodic on-site inspections.
In some countries, certification is overseen by the government, and commercial use of the term organic is legally restricted. Certified organic producers are also subject to the same agricultural, food safety and other government regulations that apply to non-certified producers.