What Does the USDA Organic Seal Mean, Anyway?

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The other day I told my husband that I need to write about organic food options at Walmart and he asked me if organic really even means anything. What Does the USDA organic seal mean, anyway? Is it trustworthy, he wanted to know. If you're wondering what the USDA organic seal is all about, read this. This article explains the difference between organic and conventional agriculture to help you answer the question What Does the USDA Organic Seal Mean?

*I’m a Stonyfield Blogger and this post is written for the Stonyfield Yo-Getters program. Although the blog post is sponsored by Stonyfield, all opinions are mine.*

What Does the USDA Organic Seal Mean?

My husband’s questions got me thinking that a lot of people might wonder the same thing! For the record, I’m a big proponent of organic farming methods and grow my own large organic garden. A large part of my blog is dedicated to helping other gardeners grow their own food using organic gardening methods. But I also live in Iowa surrounded by conventional agriculture. My own in-laws are conventional farmers, and I am somewhat familiar with their farming methods.

I thought this post on the basic differences between the two farming methods might be useful.

my kids

I’ve been strategically buying organic food for my family for a number of years. I can’t claim to feed my family a 100% organic diet, but I do what I can. I’d say we eat probably 60-40, organic to conventional, and the percentage grows each year. One reason that I’m feeding my family more organic food is because it’s becoming more available.

What is Conventional Agriculture?

To understand what the term Organic means, you first need to understand a bit about modern day agricultural because the methods used to raise organic versus conventional crops is very different. Conventional agriculture relies on:

  1. Synthetic fertilizers (to increase yield)
  2. Synthetic pesticides (to kill bugs)
  3. Chemical herbicides (to control weeds)
  4. It also allows the use of sewer sludge and irradiation

For conventional meat production, farmers use growth hormones to increase yield and antibiotics to prevent animal diseases. Their animals are usually fed GMO feed (from genetically modified corn and beans) and they are often raised indoors without access to the outside. What does the USDA organic seal mean

What is Organic Agriculture?

On the contrary, organic farming methods do not use synthetic materials to help them produce food. Instead, organic agriculture relies on:

  1. Natural fertilizers like compost (to increase yield)
  2. Naturally derived pesticides like Neem Oil and Diatomaceous Earth (to kill bugs)
  3. Natural methods of weed control, like hand weeding, crop rotation, mulching, and tilling
  4. Sewer sludge and irradiation are NOT allowed

For organic meat production, farmers are not able to use growth hormones or antibiotics. Their animals must have access to the outdoors, and they are fed an organic, GMO- and hormone-free food.

usda Food carrying the USDA Organic Seal must be grown according to approved raising methods. Furthermore, the raising methods must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. According to the USDA website, “organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances.” Organic farmers are inspected every year and must keep very detailed records of their farming methods. It also takes three years for a previously traditional farm to become certified organic.

It shouldn’t matter where you buy your USDA certified organic food. Food that carries the USDA organic label, whether producted in the US or abroad should adhere to the same standards and inspections. So if you see the USDA Organic label on food products you buy, you should have confidence that the products are 95% organic (but the remaining 5% do NOT use GMOs, sewage sludge or irradiation). Why the 5% non organic allowance? Some products are very difficult to source organically. If a product says 100% Organic, then the product is 100% organic.

Organic = Non GMO! Always. organic haul at Walmart

Organic Food Options at Walmart

Now you know some of the differences between organic and conventionally raised crops to help you make informed decisions. According to the Organic Trade Association, 78% of Americans buy some organic products and the industry is growing every year! I’m excited to find organic food options popping up all over the place, including Walmart.

organic chicken at Walmart

Stonyfield recently asked some of their bloggers to check out what type of organic food is available at Walmart and I got to work walking down the aisles. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Walmart sells organic chicken and ground beef, organic fruit and veg, organic dairy, and they also have many processed organic food options as well. I’m happy to see more organic options at Walmart.

organic produce at Walmart

Organic products I was happy to find at Walmart:

  • Organic apple sauce
  • Organic ketchup
  • Organic spices
  • Stonyfield Organic yogurt
  • Annie’s Organic products
  • Organic Clif Kids
  • Organic apples
  • Organic celery
  • Organic potatoes
  • Organic frozen blueberries
  • Overall, I found quite a few organic options at Walmart at reasonable prices. Walmart is one of the few stores in my area where I can find organic apple sauce and organic potatoes at reasonable prices! While it’s not my go-to grocery store, I know I can find USDA Organic certified food there. Organic food is becoming more accessible, and I like that!

Many thanks to Stonyfield for sponsoring this post.  I have long been impressed by Stonyfield’s commitment to sustainable agriculture and their products have been staples in our house since my kids started eating yogurt. Please connect with Stonyfield on facebook, twitter, and instagram.

For more information about the organic label, 

USDA: Organic 101: What the USDA Organic Label Means

NPR: Can You Trust That Organic Label On Imported Food?

Reader’s Digest: 13+ Things You Didn’t Know About Organic Food

Stonyfield: What You Get When You Get Certified Organic

What are your thoughts on Organic Food? And did you know Walmart sells so many organic options!?

About Michelle Marine

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long-time green-living enthusiast, and rural Iowa mom of four. She empowers families to grow and eat seasonal, local foods; to reduce their ecological footprint; and to come together through impactful travel.

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