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What Does "Organic" Mean?

Body+Soul, April/May 2006

The 2005 court battle over whether "USDA Organic" products could contain synthetic ingredients left many consumers wondering what they were -- and weren't -- getting when they bought items bearing the coveted green seal. Here's the lowdown: Packaged food and personal-care products sold as "USDA Organic" must contain 95 percent organic ingredients, which are substances produced without conventional fertilizers or synthetic pesticides and using methods that support the environment. The other 5 percent may include either synthetic or natural ingredients -- but only if they're not readily available in organic form (such as vitamin C and baking soda) and they appear on a USDA-approved list. Expect more legal wrangling, as some organic-standards activists feel the list is too loosely maintained. Get updates and descriptions of other common labels at eco-labels.org.

Learn more about the National Organic Standard.

Learn about the campaign for organic food.