Organics and You

Reading Organic Labels

All products labeled as "organic" must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agency. Understanding organic labeling may be a bit confusing at first. Here's a quick reference:

100% Organic

  • Product must contain only organically produced material, excluding water and salt.

  • The name of the certifying agent must appear on packages. Use of the USDA "organic" seal is optional.

Organic

  • Product must be made with at least 95% organically produced ingredients.

  • Remainder must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the USDA's National List of non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

  • The label may also state the percentage of organic ingredients.

  • The name of the certifying agent must appear on packages. Use of the USDA "organic" seal is optional.

Made with Organic Ingredients

  • Product must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

  • Remainder can consist of conventionally grown agricultural ingredients or approved nonagricultural substances from the USDA's National List.

  • Product may display the term "Made With Organic..." and then list up to three of the product's organic ingredients or types of food. (For example: "Made with organic dates, raisins and apricots" or "Made with organic grains, nuts and berries.") The label may also state the percentage of organic ingredients.

  • The name of the certifying agent must appear on packages. Use of the USDA "organic" seal is prohibited.

How the National Organic Standards Evolved

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act, which directed the USDA to create a set of national regulations to define "organic" agriculture. The rapid, consistent growth of the organic movement over the previous decades had created the need for a set of national organic standards that would serve as clear guidelines for the industry and its customers as to what can be considered organic. Many individuals and groups involved in the organic industry (including Whole Foods Market) worked closely with congressional representatives, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and its National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to help shape what eventually — after 11 years of input and revision — became the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Organic Rule, which became effective on October 21, 2002.

Currently, the Organic Rule applies mainly to organic food products. The USDA and the organic industry are working to create certification standards for other products such as personal care, textiles, seafood and pet supplies.

Organic Integrity

The word "integrity" means "a quality or state of being whole, unimpaired and in perfect condition." When we say that something has "organic integrity," we mean none of the factors that went into making it "organic" have been compromised by contamination, commingling or mishandling.

Whole Foods Market has been protecting organic integrity for years, and we are pleased to have the Organic Rule as a guiding standard. We created a comprehensive program called "Good Organics," consisting of merchandising, product storage and handling, as well as cleaning and sanitation procedures for every team that deals with organic products. All team members are trained on the basics of specific Good Organics procedures. We monitor all stores to ensure compliance and act diligently to address any concerns. The Good Organics program is designed to ensure that everything we offer as "organic" is truly organic.

Certified Organic

The term "Certified Organic" indicates that the product you purchase has been certified by either a private certifying agency or a state government agency that is fully accredited by the USDA. All certifying agencies must act consistently, competently, and impartially in the certification process. This ensures consumers that production and handling practices always meet national organic standards.

While retailers who sell organic products are one of the few businesses exempt from the requirement for certification, Whole Foods Market decided to become certified — making us the first national certified organic grocer. This voluntary certification is one more example of our commitment to the organic consumer and the preservation of the integrity of organic products.

Whole Foods Market is certified by CCOF, an independent, USDA-accredited, third-party certifier. CCOF's Organic Certification Program for retailers verifies that we handle organic goods according to stringent USDA guidelines. The CCOF audit process confirms that we:

  • Examine the current organic certification status of our organic products

  • Maintain an extensive record-keeping process that demonstrates a fully traceable audit trail for our organic products

  • Ensure our organic products are appropriately protected from commingling with conventional products and contamination with prohibited materials

  • Train store team members in the handling practices of organic product

  • Open our stores to on-site inspections by CCOF inspectors

All Whole Foods Market retail stores in the United States are "certified organic." Additionally, we have facilities and product lines that have also been "certified organic" through their own organic handling plans, including:

  • All of our regional distribution centers

  • Our 365 Organic Everyday Value™ private label product line

  • Our Allegro Coffee™ line

  • Several of our bake houses

Customer Responsibility

Although we at Whole Foods Market do all we can to protect the organic integrity of our products, once the decision is made to purchase an organic pear, loaf of bread, or pound of coffee, the product — and the protection of its organic integrity — passes into the hands of the customer. At this time, it becomes each individual customer's decision as to what steps they wish to take regarding their organic purchases. You may choose to:

  • Bag and separate your organic produce selection from conventional produce prior to placing it on the produce scales, in the shopping basket or onto the register belt.

  • Grind whole organic coffee beans at home since our grinders are used for both conventional and organic coffees.

  • Please be patient when our team members need to clean their equipment before giving you a special cut of organic cheese or meat.

Want to Know More?

On this website we provide a comprehensive look at the USDA Organic Rule, organic agriculture, the organic industry and why we are committed to providing organic products in our stores. For additional information about the Organic Rule, contact the USDA's National Organic Program at 202-720-3252 or visit www.ams.usda.gov/nop

Our Commitment

At Whole Foods Market, we are committed to bringing you high quality organically produced foods. This commitment reflects our concern for the health and quality of our lives, the improvement of our environment, and the sustainability of our food system. Be sure to look for the organic label throughout our stores — your purchase of organic products supports those farmers, producers, and handlers who have a strong commitment to good health, quality foods, and earth-friendly sustainable agricultural practices. It also encourages others to make their way toward organic farming as the industry continues to grow. At Whole Foods Market we believe that all of us, as well as future generations, have the right to safe nutritious foods and a healthy environment in which to live.

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