There are a number of different regulatory bodies that can certify something as organic. One of the most common in the US is the USDA. There are 3 different levels of Organic certification:
- “100% Organic”: all ingredients are organic
- “Organic”: at least 95% of ingredients are organic (these products often include trace amounts of non-organic oils or
- “Made with organic ingredients”: at least 70% of ingredients are organic. They may not use the USDA Organic seal (t
In order to produce a certified organic product, a manufacturer must meet the organic certification requirements set by a recognized certification body, such as the USDA Organic or the EU Organic standards. These requirements include using organic ingredients and following specific production and handling practices. The certification process involves inspections, documentation, and compliance with the defined organic standards. So while a manufacturer can produce organic products without being certified, they cannot label or advertise their products as organic without the proper certification.
For further reading on USDA Organic certification, here are some links:
Non-GMO certification guarantees that a product does not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Manufacturers must undergo testing and verification by an accredited organization, such as the Non-GMO Project. They must provide documentation demonstrating that their ingredients and production processes comply with the non-GMO standards.
The term Non-GMO is often misleading overall though, as the USDA’s definition of GMO is “An organism produced through genetic engineering”, which is vague enough to include common practices as cross breeding and selective breeding, which farms have done since they started farming. Additionally, the USDA has not defined what a “Non-GMO” product is.
A manufacturer must be certified by a Non-GMO certification organization (such has the Non-GMO Project) in order to label a food as Non-GMO.
Kosher certification ensures that food products meet Jewish dietary laws and are prepared according to specific rituals.
Manufacturers must comply with the requirements of a kosher certification agency, such as the Orthodox Union (OU) or the Kosher Supervision of America (KSA). This involves ingredient scrutiny, facility inspections, and regular supervision by a kosher authority.
A manufacturer must be certified by a Kosher certification agency in order to label a food as Kosher. This is a fairly easy process, so if you require a Kosher certification and your co-man doesn’t currently have it, it might be something they are willing to obtain.
The five largest Kosher certifying bodies, known as the “Big Five,” include:
- OU Kosher
- OK Kosher
These certify more than 80% of US Kosher Foods
Halal certification indicates that food products comply with Islamic dietary laws and are permissible for consumption by Muslims.
A manufacturer must be certified by a Halal certification agency in order to label a food as Halal. This process is a bit more difficult than Kosher, so if you require a Halal certification, you should look for a manufacturer who already is certified Halal.
Additionally, there are a number of labels that don’t mean anything. They are not regulated or defined by the FDA or USDA, so are technically meaningless and are more often used as marketing. Manufacturers must meet the criteria of a halal certification authority, such as the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) or a local halal certifying organization. This involves ingredient verification, facility inspections, and adherence to halal production processes.
There are also misleading labels that technically have a definition, but it doesn’t mean what consumers perceive it.
- “Natural” - The FDA has considered the term "natural" to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term "natural" should describe any nutritional or other health benefit. (Source: FDA)
- “Free-range” - this means the animal was allowed access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, this claim doesn’t specify for how long or even if the animal actually ever went outside, and often “free-range” chickens are packed in so tightly that even if they do have access to the outdoors, they can’t move.
- “Farm-raised” - this is a meaningless label because all chickens are raised on farms, therefore any chicken or egg could be labelled as “farm-raised”