Feds Clarify Labeling Rules For Companies with “Organic” in Name

Washington, D.C.—Food companies that aren’t certified organic and that have a form of the word “organic” in their name may be scrutinized more closely, following a rule clarification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The agency released a notice limiting the ways such companies can display the word “organic” on packages, and instructing organic certifiers to enforce the policy.

Products that are only certified as “made with organic” ingredients, as opposed to “organic” or “100% organic,” are the target of this rule, as well as completely uncertified products. In products certified with the lesser claim of “made with organic,” at least 70% of ingredient content must be organic. The USDA policy states that companies with “organic” in their name that sell such products may not display their company name on the principal display panel (PDP) of the products. The PDP is generally the front or most prominent portion of the package or label.

Company names containing the term “organic” may be displayed on the product’s information panel as required by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, according to USDA. Even this less-visible instance of a company’s name, the agency says, should not be displayed in way that might mislead consumers as to the product’s organic certification status. The policy also says that “organic” should not be displayed anywhere else on the labels of these products.

The National Organic Program does not make determinations, according to USDA, about the legality of brand and company names that use the word “organic.” Instead, the primary concern is whether the use of the word misrepresents the product’s status to consumers. The agency notes that a similar policy against misuse of the word “organic” applies to all forms of marketing, including print and online advertising.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2014 (online 9/5/14)