US agriculture secretary Ann M. Veneman yesterday [Monday] launched the implementation of USDA's national organic standards for agricultural products providing consistent labelling on products nationwide.

"When consumers see the USDA national organic seal on products, they will know that the products labelled organic will be consistent across the country," said Veneman.

Henceforth, any organic agricultural product must meet USDA standards in order to be sold as "organic." Along with the national organic standards, USDA developed strict labelling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they buy. Consumers can tell organically produced food from conventionally produced food by looking at package labels and watching for signs in the supermarket.

The USDA Organic Seal tells consumers that a product is at least 95% organic. Products with 70-95% organic ingredients can say so on the label (made with organic fruit, for example), but they cannot display the seal.

"The focus on consumer awareness is just beginning," said A.J. Yates, administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Programme. "To coincide with implementation of the standards, we have updated our website to make it more user-friendly and provide consumer information through a variety of avenues."

The organic industry is growing between 20 and 25% annually, and has been for the last several years. US retail sales of organic foods reached approximately US$7.8bn in 2000, with global sales topping $17.5bn.

Classification:

The USDA's National Organic Programme (NOP) has four classifications for certified organic foods (source: Business Information 15/9/02):

100% Organic:
Foods must be produced and processed according to a long list of specific guidelines and using no prohibited ingredients or substances. Foods may be individual (such as produce) or multiple ingredient. Meat and poultry labelled 100% organic must come from animals fed only 100% organic feed. Foods in this category may display the USDA Organic label.

Organic:
Made with ingredients that are at least 95% organic. The remaining 5% or less may either be non-agriculture or determined to be not "commercially available" in organic form. Foods in this category also may display the USDA Organic label.

Made with organic ingredients:
Between 70% and 95% organic ingredients, label may state, "Made with Organic Ingredients," with up to three organic ingredients named.

Less than 70 % organic ingredients:
Food products containing less than 70% organic ingredients may be labelled as such, but only in the packaging information panel.