Organic Food Label – What’s Valid, What’s Not

Posted by on Jan 31, 2016 in Green Living | 38 comments

Organic Food Label

Canada’s Certified Organic Seal.

Is it worth paying extra for products with an Organic, Natural, Farm Fresh or Premium Quality Organic Food label? The last time I was buying bananas at 57 cents a pound, organic bananas were priced at 97 cents a pound. Was this organic food label really worth paying an extra 40 cents a pound?

Once I started looking into the labels I discovered that the one sure thing about having organic or similar wording on a label was that it instantly increased the price of the product. Many producers saw this as an opportunity to cash in by creating a variety of labels designed to make the consumer think they were paying more for better quality, organic products, when in fact they weren’t.

Shown below are some of the labels used to market food products. It’s all very impressive but let’s just take a look at what the labels really mean.

organic food label


The Organic Food Label – What’s Valid, What’s Not:

100% Organic or Certified Organic – This is the real deal. A product with this label meets the standards for organic certification set by the country of origin. Organic agricultural methods are internationally regulated and legally enforced by many nations. (Wikipedea).

Organic – The label ‘organic’, without showing certification, can be applied to products that are 70-95% organic. Since the bananas only said organic – not certified organic – they would fall into this category. 

Made with Organic Ingredients – This is pretty meaningless and not acceptable as it is not clear how much of the product is made with organic ingredients. Products with 70-95% organic content must declare the percentage of organic content on their label. Products with less than 70% organic content may only indicate which ingredients are organic in the ingredients list.

Premium Quality Organic Food – Since it doesn’t claim certification, but does claim organic, means the product must contain 70-95% organic ingredients.

Natural or All Natural – This means that nothing was changed in or added to the product itself – it does not say anything about the growing conditions or whether synthetic pesticides and/or herbicides were used. A good example here would be non-organic apples, which are all natural but on the EWG’s ‘dirty dozen’ list because they contain high levels of chemical residue.

No Hormones/Steroids Added – This label may sometimes be found on poultry products where it is absolutely meaningless since the addition of hormones and/or steroids to poultry and pork has been prohibited in Canada for the past 30 years.

Pure or 100% Pure – Can only be applied to one ingredient products. For instance, maple syrup can be 100% pure while peanut butter made with peanuts and oil (2 ingredients) can’t be.

Farm Fresh or Farm Grown – This label doesn’t explain growing conditions and, in the case of animals, what additives were given.

Grass Fed. Animals have access to outside where they graze or are fed hay. This leads to healthier, leaner animals resulting in better quality meat. Since this is not a certification we have no way of knowing what additional supplements or additives were given.

Non-GMO. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) have been thought to increase serious allergies in children and may be the cause of many other serious health problems. Non-GMO means the products are free of these organisms.

Thanks to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for much of the above information.

I have always considered myself to be knowledgeable about reading labels and deciphering what they really mean but seeing this in black and white was still an eye-opener.

As for the bananas, they’re labeled organic, not certified, which means they are up to 30% non-organic. To me, that isn’t good enough to pay extra for and my organic designated dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Buying food under the organic food label means you are willing to pay extra for top quality, non-toxic products. Don’t be deceived and pay extra for creative organic food labels that mean absolutely nothing at all.

Talk to you again next week,


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  1. To play the Devil’s advocate, maybe non-organic produce is actually better for you in that it spurs the body’s defenses to ‘stay in shape’ by fending off the minor amount of contamination that is present.

    I eat at least one piece of fresh fruit every single day of my life. (I had an orange at lunch and a banana at dinner today, FYI.) I always buy regular, non-organic fruit, and this post just persuades me to keep on keepin’ on.

    • Good morning Andy – I must say you do play the Devil’s advocate so well 🙂 Those two fruits you mentioned, I would just buy regular since you don’t eat the peel, limiting the exposure. Blueberries are a different thing altogether – you eat them whole and from everything I read about them is that they are sprayed with one of the worst sprays around. The upside on that one for me, we have a couple of blueberry bushes growing here and if we can get to them before the birds, we’re good.

      You just keep on keepin’ on and have a wonderful week.

  2. Thanks for this article. I will be paying more attention to the organis labeling from today as I assumed that when something is marked organic – it is organic. We have been buying organic milk, yogurt,eggs and vegetables for a number of years and not once have I checked to find out how organic they are. Love your articles as they have so much useful information,

    • Hi Mina, thanks for your nice comment. What is you said about assuming that when something says organic that it really is so and that is exactly what is so deceptive about this practice. We expect to be able to trust labels, after all, isn’t that their purpose? But as you saw, a lot of them are absolutely meaningless with only one purpose – to defraud the consumer.

  3. Although I try hard to eat the healthy stuff, I am, frankly, way too cheap to pay for organic. The exception will be when the local Farmer’s Markets open up in May. There are some notable local organic growers that we frequent because the fare they produce is SO tasty.

    I wish advertisers would stop the deceptiveness. I refuse to shop at Victoria’s Secret because I’m smart enough to know that I’m not going to turn into one of those models. ha.

    My husband will seek out the best beef and turkey because we eat so little of it. I’m zapping this post over to him!

    • Rose, the thing that bothers me the most about this labeling is – why have standards if they are allowed to be manipulated in order to deceive the consumer? There are consumer protection agencies in every country – shouldn’t it be their job to warn us and not just on some website that most people wouldn’t ordinarily visit. Anyway, that’s another rant.

      • You’re right about that, Lenie. If the standards are i place, they should be respected. There’s enough deceptive advertising in other areas (there we go with the Victoria’s Secret conversation again. 🙂 )

    • Buying organic food is worth it to me. My health depends upon it. I guess my health is a high priority to me, as my adrenal glands have given out. Eating poisoned/GMO food has caught up with me. Good for you if you have a high resistance to eating “conventional” food because each year more herbicides and pesticides are applied to the plants. More and more, plants are becoming resistant.

      • HI Phoenix, read your blog about the adrenal fatigue–I had no idea! Hope that eating organic really helps you feel better.

  4. What gets me is why should we pay extra for organic, non modified foods, why isn’t it all that way?
    I am also scared of how some lawmakers, particularly, those which are republicans, are trying to ban some labeling on our food.
    If I buy some food, I should know what is in it, and where it comes from.
    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    • William, I did not know that lawmakers are trying to ban labels – that is downright scary because you know there is only reason for it – they have something to hide. I also don’t think there is any reason to pay extra for organic. When it first came out, there were a handful of organic farmers who used truly organic methods to produce the food. since much of that required hand labour you could understand why they had to charge more. But now, many organic farmers use the same farming methods as non-organic, that is spraying herbicides/pesticides, albeit using ‘natural’ products (some of which really aren’t much better than the chemical sprays being used). That said, I do buy some organic produce but much prefer to grow my own.

  5. This is so interesting. In the US, fruits and vegetables have a USDA Organic sticker on them, so when you buy organic, you know the produce is at least 95% organic. A product can’t be labelled as certified organic or organic if it isn’t at least 95% organic. That goes to show that you have to be extra mindful when travelling because terms vary between countries.

    My favorite is the term natural on labels. I’m always like, what the heck does that mean?

    • Hi Erica, this is interesting and maddening. If produce, both in the US and Canada, and probably everywhere else, carry the gov’t certification label you’re buying the real thing. It’s those other labels that are meant to deceive the consumer. You chose natural as the favourite one – I kind of like farm-fresh. I live in a rural area and believe me, some of those farms aren’t all that ‘fresh’.

  6. Lenie — it’s all very confusing to the consumer. I don’t always buy organic because of the price and, frankly, organic doesn’t always taste better. However, I always buy organic milk because it can last up to a month in the refrigerator. Simply pasteurized milk, on the other hand, can go bad in as little as a week.

    • Hi Jeannette, doesn’t it seem odd that the food labels are regulated by governments and yet producers are allowed to abuse them to confuse the consumer and make them think they are paying for something that’s better than the norm. I think that’s the part about this creative labeling that bothers me the most. The consumer being duped and the regulators just looking the other way.

  7. I’ve gradually been taking more of an interest in learning all the distinctions, but it’s a lot to take in at times. I had my egg situation figured out and was buying free-range eggs, but then my budget took a nosedive and I became a lot less discerning.

    • Jeri, I think it’s wrong that organic is priced for the wealthy as if the rest of us don’t matter. The more I learn about food, its additives, growing conditions, etc. the scarier I find it. Thank goodness for gardens and growing our own right? At least there we know what we’re eating.

  8. This is great Lenie. I’ve notice in recent months the ‘organic” section in the produce department of my local grocery store has steadily expanded and I’m going to take a closer look next time, but I don’t remember anything more than “Organic” on the labels. I’m trying to buy as much of my produce as I can at our weekly outdoor market, but even then the reality is there is no way of knowing what chemicals they use in the growing. Thanks so much!

    • Marquita, I would think most ‘organic’ products grown would come under the ‘organic’ label, rather than ‘certified organic’. What I would like to know, and I’m going to keep digging, is what herbicides/pesticides are used on the ‘organic’ products and why, in many cases, they cost as much as ‘certified organic’. I do think you probably have a better chance of buying quality products at the market.

  9. I am aware of these various definitions, and these are great reminders, so thanks for posting this information. I have been eating organically since 2013, due to intolerance to GMOs, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones and all the things that go into what is called “food” these days. I got seriously ill…and 2013 is when I woke up. I’m still dealing with health issues. 2013 was the time to take care of myself for real. I located a Naturopathic doctor and began the journey to wellness…in earnest. I have learned that even the Non-GMO foods could still contain chemicals, so while it is a step in the right direction, the only way to avoid toxins is to eat certified organically grown food, which could include growing my own garden. I even use a muscle-testing technique while grocery shopping and sensing “hmmm…something doesn’t feel right.” But that’s just me. Maybe other people can get away with eating toxins, but one day…well, let’s just pose the question: How much poison is good for the body? Seriously.

    • Hello Phoenix – welcome to my blog, nice to see you here. I think you are right about growing your own food and if you possibly can that’s the way to go. I’m going to be doing a post in a couple of weeks on small space gardens and you would be surprised how much you can grow in very limited areas. In the meantime you’re going to have to trust the ‘certified organic’ label. As for how much poisons a body can tolerate – well, they can’t. You are a prime example of that. I’m 71 years old and hear about allergies and illness that didn’t even exist when I was growing up, before big-time producers started messing around with our food. Maybe someday the overworked health care system will wake up and decide to do something about it all.

  10. Am definitely pro organic products. Catch is, as you point out, a lot of what’s called organic really isn’t. A lot of non organic products claim to be because they can raise the price. It’s really a pity but unfortunately that’s reality all over the world.

    • Catarina, it’s kind of funny – we give millions of dollars to supposedly support undeveloped countries yet do nothing to ensure the health of our own. It seems to me that if we grow healthy foods here, without big price tags or fancy labels, we would then not only have more money to send developing nations but also the wherewithal to teach them to grow their own healthy foods. But that’s too logical and governments don’t deal in logic.

  11. It’s all pretty confusing isn’t it? In a lot of cases the standards of the U.S. FDA are pretty low. I recall a fairly recent suit against Coca-Cola/Minute Maid for marketing some mysterious liquid as blueberry pomegranate juice. The actual content of those two juuices combined was 0.5 percent. Coke’s defense was that their marketing was in line with FDA regulation.

    • Ken, it isn’t just in the US where standards are low – that seems to be the problem all over the world. We don’t want to upset the big companies, do we? Sooner or later, however, people are going to say enough is enough and demand better and clearer standards, which are then enforced, rather than ignored. But as long as there is money to be made, that unfortunately won’t be happening any time soon.

  12. I think it’s worth it when the label is the truth – but only for foods that ARE better healthwise organic. I cannot recall the website I found years ago, but some foods aren’t any different organic. Like watermelons, for example, little can penetrate the soil or spray on that thick, thick coat of a melon. I have a list in my iPhone that I refer to, so I don’t get tricked into buying everything organic Lenie. Having had the health issues I’ve had, I’ve had to learn a little along the way. I LOVE that you have it all in one place in this post Lenie! Would maybe make for a good infographic.

    • Patricia, that is the problem though, isn’t it – when the label is the truth. I don’t have piles of money so have to choose where I spend my organic dollars and for me that is apples, blueberries, lemons because I don’t remove the skins, and soya milk.
      I love the idea of an infographic and may even have a contact for that. Will have to look into it. Thanks.

  13. Hi, Lenie

    We, as consumers, are very confused by all those labels. We really do have clarity about what they mean after this article.

    I am the person will not pay the higher price for the organic products because I doubt whether they are real thing.
    I grew up in farm where no pesticide was used so that there were holes on the leaves no matter how hard we tried. Therefore holes on the leaves are my reference point for real organic products. It is so easy to notice that there is no hole on any leave in any products. I wouldn’t waste money on this thing. Will you?

    Thanks for this nice article, Lenie!

    Have a nice week ahead!

    Stella Chiu

    • Stella, I like you reference point about holes in the leaves. I never thought of that but it’s right. I grow things like kale, spinach, lettuce, etc in my raised beds and don’t have a lot of bug problems because I also do companion planting but my produce is never perfect and I do find a bug or two from time to time, but when we eat the produce I know it won’t poison me. That’s worth a few holes and bugs, isn’t it.

  14. Thank you for providing this useful information. Organic costs far more than non organic therefore it is only right that customers know exactly what they are paying for.

    I do not go out of my way to buy organic foods. I have often wondered what makes an organic apple so different from a non organic apple.

    I am concerned with the number of chemicals found within fruit and veg – pesticide being the main one. I thoroughly wash my fresh fruit and veg before eating.

    • Phoenicia, I don’t know about the UK but here in Canada we have something called the truth in advertising. What good is that if creative labeling gets around it and leads the consumer to think they are buying something they’re not.
      As far as buying organic – I buy some of the worst foods organic and others, especially if they have a throwaway peel, I don’t.

  15. Yes, this is certainly an important topic. Everyone is on a budget and we all want to be healthy. It should be illegal for food companies to exploit the public with misleading food labels and there sure is a big difference in price between products labeled with the many labels you list above, as opposed to products that are not labeled as such. Thank you for your post. It’s a public service and much appreciated!

    • Michele, I totally agree that it should be illegal for food companies to exploit the public but blame should also be attached to the retailers who are very well aware of this practice and to governments who set the labeling standards and then look the other way when those same standards get abused.

  16. Great post, Lenie. I think it is worth paying the extra for 100% organic on certain products. I wish I could afford it for all, but can’t, so the things that I just want to rinse and eat are things that I try and buy organic. That includes the fresh bunch carrots with tops on, strawberries and other fruits and veggies when possible.

    • Doreen, my emphasis on buying organic is on apples and blueberries. From everything I’ve read those are the worst but the ones you listed are definitely on the Dirty Dozen list. Isn’t is so wrong that when you buy say strawberries with some kind of organic label only to find they’re not better than the cheapest kind on the shelf? That really ticks me off.

  17. Good explanation of what the organic and natural labels really mean. I will pay more for organic in some cases, but not always. I wish there wasn’t such a cost premium to buy healthier food.

    • Donna, I’m not sure that there is a good reason to pay more for organic. I’ve heard it’s because of the hand labour involved but then I’ve also discovered that isn’t necessarily the case since many organic farmers use ‘natural’ herbicides and pesticides and some of them aren’t all that good for you. I think the only way to be sure of what you’re getting is to grow your own.

  18. Great post, Lenie. When I come to Canada to visit family and vacation, I will be sure to look out for only the 100% organic labels when shopping. In the US. the labels and the definition of the labels are different. It’s important for me to know how other countries label their food. We went to Portugal a few years back and I did notice that the food in Europe tasted “cleaner” and less processed than the food in the US. I think Europe’s standards on food are a lot higher than the US. Thanks for sharing.

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