Monday, May 30, 2011



In the March-April  2011 Audubon magazine, I noticed an article explaining what environmental labeling on food packaging really means. This article sorts out all the environmental claims that you read on your food labels. Audubon pointed out that there are over 100 “green” ( also called environmental) labels.

Lots of labels for folks to understand!

As a person who practices organic eating, at least I thought I did, I was surprised at what I was about to read. My main interest was with the label below – that of the USDA ORGANIC  label. This is by law the label that decides if the product is organic. 


I had assumed, wrongly, that what I ate, with this label, meant it was produced wholly (100 percent) without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, sludge, irradiation, or not grown with genetically modified seeds (GMO’s).

What I was about to read was that with the above USDA ORGANIC label on a food product it is 100 percent organic IF it also contains the words 100 percent organic on the label. So this form of label means it is without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, sludge, irradiation, or not grown with genetically modified seeds (GMO's). I know I repeat myself but this labeling can get a bit sticky. 

After that things really begin to change. Audubon then states that if 95 percent or more of the ingredients can be produced and grown organically, as the last two paragraphs states, then it can be labeled "organic" and can also display the official USDA seal. At this point the 100 percent labeling cannot be included.

Are you still with me?

So at 100 percent labeling, the food is grown and produced totally organic. At 95 to 99 percent some of the ingredients can be non-organic and therefore may be grown and produced with some synthetic pesticides, herbicides, sludge, irradiation, or GMO's -- and still be labelled organic and displayed with the USDA ORGANIC label. I feel this is tricky. 

I use Spectrum Olive Oil and found that it is 100 percent organic on the side label. I think that a standard box should be created on the label to state what percentage is organically grown and produced -- much like the nutritional box used on labels.  (By the way corporate GMO companies have pressured the government not too label the food that is produced with GMO's -- shhhhh) -- (also of interest click on this article -- Court of Appeals Dismisses Monsanto’s Appeal of Biotech Beets Case, Preserves Victory for Farmers, Environment).

More tricks -- if at least 70 percent of the ingredients are organic it can be marked, “Made with organic,” only and will appear without the USDA ORGANIC label.  If less than 70 percent only the ingredient list can identify the organic ingredients – also without USDA ORGANIC label.

My interpretation from this is to look for  labels marked 100 percent organic with the official USDA ORGANIC label to eat a true organic product -- no sludge, irradiation, GMO’s, pesticides and herbicides. After that standard it looks like some manipulation creeps in for  chemicals and genetic engineering. 

A good example of a 100 percent organic label is this Ferry Morse seed packet below. It has the USDA ORGANIC label and the words 100 percent organic assuring the customer of what they are buying. Seeds fall in the food category with USDA,.

View the Audubon article below for many of the different types of "green" labels 

Don’t let all this confusion deter you – look at it as a challenge to your well being.


USDA  Organic Program

Audubon Magazine Peeling Back The Labels


  1. It's too complicated for me. I do try to pay attention but, truth be told, I am absolutely pathetic when it comes to my diet.

  2. Thanks for the info! Does this apply to individual produce items too? I mean if it doesn't say 100% then might an apple, say, have been produced with 5 or 10% non-organic fertilizer or pesticide? Sheesh, too bad it's so difficult to eat good old-fashioned natural food these days!

    Love the picture of the apples and spuds.

  3. Thanks for the informative article. I have heard that there are many interpretations of "organic". The term "green" is even worse for abuse.
    Love your photo of your bowl and apples and potatoes.

  4. Good information, Jean! Tricky labeling abounds.

  5. Rose -- The Audubon article did not spell out about individual produce items. I have an order to pick up at Whole Foods tomorrow and I am going to snoop around and see how a few items are labeled. Will let you know if I find out anything more. -- barbara

  6. Kay -- I know that not everyone eats organics. I have one child in my family that doesn't. It is all personal preference. Unfortunately our govt regs are making organic eating complicated. Thanks for the comment -- barbara

  7. Vicki -- thanks for the comment -- yes labeling is tricky -- barbara

  8. Sheri -- I don't imagine that Canada has the same regs? Hopefully they are not as complicated. Glad you liked the photo -- barbara

  9. It is a challenge to determine the various meanings of food labeling. I am amazed at the amount of fat in some of the "low fat" foods. We try to purchase from local farmers when produce is in season. Not always organic but at least it hasn't traveled thousands of miles. And many of our small farmers are indeed growing organic.

  10. Good information here and labels are tricky. Why must it be this way?

  11. I'm in Kay's camp. I've always been skeptical about labeling [all sots including the nutrition labels]. For myself, and I think for most Americans, the problem with what we eat is in quantity rather than quality, even for those of us who truly prefer fruits, veggies and nuts to snack and fast food.
    Farmers' markets are starting back up for the summer, that's good news whatever their practices, in terms of freshness,

  12. June -- My concern is for those who choose to eat organic or close to it have to thread through a maze of confusing labeling to buy what they want. In grocery stores it seems that the benefactors of the confusion are the large food producers.

    Organic sales have doubled in the past few years and the market wants that money. Maybe if they loosely label the food they can cash in on the explosive sales records of organics?

    Thanks for the comments June -- barbara

  13. Farmchick -- Who benefits from confusing labels -- the buyer or the seller? Thanks for the comment -- barbara

  14. NCmountainwoman -- As consumers we expect to buy our products on a level playing field. I will check out the yogurt today when I do my bi-monthly trip to Whole Foods. Farmers markets are great places to find both conventional and organic and of course, FRESH. Thanks for the comments -- barbara

  15. I saw the Audubon article. I have stopped trying to follow what the Feds did to the USDA label. I use the Oregon Tilth label for my food if I buy organic. Some things are perfectly okay if they are not organic, and some things like peanuts can be dangerous if they are not sprayed for fungus (at least to parrots). I watch the pesticide applications as I give my parrrots fresh fruit and veggies and they have a low tolerance for foreign chemicals. I grow some things here at home. When I had young children, I was very vigilent. Good review of a complicated issue Barbara. Dianne

  16. Excellent post. I love your old yellow ware bowl!

  17. Dianne -- Thanks for all your comments. I am familiar with the Oregon Tilth label but see it infrequently in my area. When I lived in Oregon it seemed to be on all organic produce and I readily bought food with their label. Their strict organic regulations are top notch.

    Fungus on peanuts? I'll do a bit of research on this. What items do you feel are perfectly OK if they are not organic?

    I learn from all of you -- barbara

  18. Hey Tess -- You are after my heart when you identify that old piece of yellow ware. My interest in yellow ware dates back to my childhood when my mom raised her bread in an old yellow ware bowl. What happened to the bowl? Lost forever. But, I keep chasing rainbows -- recreating memories of my great baking mom with her yellow ware bowl -- I buy them cheap at house sales as the price of them in antique stores is now exorbitant. Thanks

  19. Barbara,
    I admire your passion for research. I thought when reading this that the stress and worry over deciding what is ok to eat and what is not might be worse for you than eating poor nutritional foods. Then again if I were in your shoes that may be how you reduce the stress about what you eat. I hunt, fish and raise as much of my own food as I can. My way of knowing what I eat and where it came from. Not possible for everyone. Of course I love the photo. The old crockery worn and chipped has so much more character than something new. Like the old iron skillets we cook in most of the time. Thanks for the diligent research information.

  20. Grampy -- No, there is no stress and worry about deciding what to eat. I love eating local, organic and from my garden. What I was trying to point out is that our government makes eating food of our choice so difficult. Thanks for the nice comment on the old bowl and glad that you have access to hunting, fishing and growing your own food. -- barbara

  21. Thank you, Barb, for stopping by Florida Fotos! Your comment is much appreciated.

    I've not seen your blog before but it is fascinating. I envy your opportunity to live in such a place and be able to grow at least some of your own food.

    Just this morning I was reading an article that discussed how this country is evolving into a corporate police state. Corporations are using the power of the government to protect their profits. An extreme example (but maybe not) is how one state is considering making it against the law to share one's Netflix password with family and friends. Netflix is worried about losing a little money.

    I think labeling is another egregious example of how the government is so beholden to the corporate interests that labeling something 100% organic when it is not is commonplace and approved by the guv'mint.

    I'm not against government. We need government. It's the only way we can have a fair and just society that allows people to thrive and protects people from predators and the vagaries of life. But our government has been co-opted by the corporations.

    And I'm afraid we're only just beginning to see the implications of that; none of which will be beneficial to most people in this country!

  22. Jacob -- Thanks for an informative follow-up comment to my post on govt labeling. Yes, unfortunately, "corporate govt" is the new name for our US government. As we slip again into the second round of the great recession era with employment plunging we can expect an uproar from "corporate govt." With this second round of unemployed folks how can they buy corporate goods? Seems like I hear a class war warming up in the background. -- barbara

  23. Barbara,
    Organic peanuts are okay if they are roasted first, but I am leery of organic peanut butter because I am not sure the peanuts are roasted. From time to time the W. Post runs an article in the food section on when to buy organic and when not. Some things are really dangerous for parrots if commercially grown (like strawberries) but I don't want to list here for fear of getting it wrong. Plus parrots tolerate less poison than humans.

    I buy oeganic and commercially grown fresh vegetables from reputable dealers in this area. Washington DC gets food from everywhere (even Oregon). Whole Foods is pretty good, but one must be aware that some of their produce is 'commercially grown' as they put it. This means not USDA approved for what that is worth.

  24. Dianne -- Thanks for explaining about peanut butter. I do buy organic roasted peanuts from a local health food store -- and they grind it in the store. Now my question to the health food store is -- are the peanuts 100 percent organic? Will ask next time I go to their store. I buy from Whole Foods as they carry organic food that I cannot buy elsewhere in this area. An example is quinwoa. Whole Foods is a distance from me so I buy in bulk too. Saves money!

    It surely is a maze that one travels to eat safely. I do not buy conventional food. I have found many conventional practices go against my principles such as land use and GMO's.

    Again thanks for the peanut butter tip. And thanks for all your good comments that you leave on my posts. -- barbara