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Buying Organic Food

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and authorized the USDA to create a National Organic Program (NOP). This program established strict certification standards for organic food producers and processors that are reviewed and monitored by USDA-accredited agents. Producers and processors must obtain USDA certification before they are allowed to label their products with a USDA Organic seal.

USDA regulations assure that organic products meet standards in multiple stages:

  • Growing
  • Processing
  • Handling

National Organic Program regulations benefit consumers, organic farmers, and processors by taking strong action against those who violate the law and jeopardize consumer confidence in organic products. The USDA may conduct unannounced inspections of organic operations at any time to investigate suspected violations of the organic regulations.

Penalties for inspection violations can include:

  • Up to $11,000 per violation
  • Suspension of organic certificate
  • Revocation of organic certificate

“Organic” is a labeling term that indicates that food or other agricultural products have been produced through approved methods. These methods foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used. Animals that produce organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products may not be administered antibiotics or growth hormones. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations define the standards for using the USDA Organic label.

The standards are:

  • “100 percent organic” must contain only organic ingredients
  • “Organic” must contain at least 95 percent organic materials
  • “Made with organic ingredients” must contain 70-95 percent organic ingredients


U.S. Government Publishing Office.


Agricultural Law Information Partnership

National Agricultural Law Center.



USDA. Agricultural Marketing Service.
USDA. Agricultural Marketing Service.
USDA. NAL. Food and Nutrition Information Center.
USDA. AMS. National Organic Program.
USDA. NAL. Alternative Farming Systems Information Center.


National Center for Appropriate Technology. ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.


Organic Consumers Association.