If you're producing a product that is organic, it's important to understand the difference between organic and certified USDA organic.
The USDA certification is regulated under the National Organic Program or NOP. The primary difference between organic and certified USDA organic relates to who is making the claim and if there is paperwork provided (by the right people) to back that organic statement up.
In this discussion, we'll first review a definition of organic vs. certified USDA organic. Then we'll look at a good example of these definitions from close to home. Last, we'll talk about how this definition affects the labeling of your products.
This discussion is ideal for new food brands and organic manufacturers.
An organic product is anything that is grown, produced and stored using organic methods. An outline of these methods are set forward by the USDA, though some people have their own additions and ammendments to that definition.
Keep in mind, a product doesn't have to be certified USDA organic to technically be an organic product. There are varying degrees of organic products and ingredients.
For example, there are lots of great bulk olive oils from California that has been grown organically but haven't been certified USDA organic. That's because the organic verification process costs many thousands of dollars, and not all small farms can afford to do that. It doesn't mean that the oil wasn't produced in an organic manner-- just because it hasn't been certified. It's still a great product.
USDA Certified Organic
A product that is USDA Certified Organic is backed by the USDA, meaning that they've had one of their accredited agencies audit the product (and the facility, and all it's ingredients) so that the consumer can feel confident that the company is telling the truth about it being organic, as are all of their suppliers.
This certifying process is expensive and complex, but can open your product's sales up to a whole new market of people. In addition, many retail stores are pushing for USDA certified products for their shelves.
A good example using you, your garden and your friends
Let's start with a good example.
Let's pretend you are growing lettuce in your backyard garden, and you're following all of the organic practices set forth by the USDA. When you pick your lettuce, most people would agree that you're picking an organic vegetable. If it is grown and stored and cooked using all of the organic growing processes, it is an organic product. This is often called "organically grown" or "grown using organic methods". This requires that your friends who eat your lettuce trust your word, and believe that you did in fact grow it organically.
However, your lettuce is not going to be considered "certified organic". That's because you didn't have an auditor coming in with their clipboard to check what you've put on the soil, test the residue on the leaves, and provide a document to your friends to say that you are, in fact, growing your lettuce organically. And that they checked. And double checked.
The same story applies to olive oil
There are Extra Virgin Olive Oils that are grown organically, and then there are Extra Virgin Olive Oils that are certified USDA Organic. If you can walk into an olive grove in California and see them press the oil, are you going to be so concerned about the organic documentation? Probably not.
However, as a manufacturer you're often far away from your bulk ingredients. You can't always verify with your own eyes that your bulk organic olive oil follows all of the stated requirements and rules (though that trip to Spain sounds great, huh?). That's where the organic documentation process comes in to play, and is very helpful to provide assurance to both you and your customers that your ingredient is in fact organically grown.
How this definition affects your labels
This difference in definition is important for manufacturers. If you want to sell an organic product, you'll need to decide if you want to simply state "grown organically" on the label (and you must follow all USDA, labeling and organic requirements that go along with that), or if you want to certify your product Certified USDA Organic.
If you want to sell it as certified organic, this means that you'll need to go through the organic certification process by a USDA accredited agency. Once that happens, then you can use the little USDA organic logo on your label.
If you want to go through the Organic Certification process, you're going to need to purchase ingredients that are also certified organic and have the paperwork and documentation to back it up. You'll have to pass that documentation along to your certifier to get your own paperwork completed.
Where should you buy certified organic bulk oil ingredients?
If you need bulk organic oils for your product, check out three of our certified USDA organic oils below.