Defining Food Terms & Categories: Organic & Non-GMO

Defining Food Terms & Categories: Organic & Non-GMO

The barrage of new food categories and buzz words is quite overwhelming; confusing consumers and manufacturers alike. In this series, we define these terms in order to explain and help customers gain a better understanding.

Read through our glossary of definitions below:


Organic is a labeling term and agricultural practice regulated by The National Organic Program (NOP) which is controlled by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. Organic agricultural practices are based upon the following principles:

  • Emulate natural systems
  • Build soil fertility
  • Reduce agricultural pollution
  • Recycle with the system
  • Increase biodiversity
  • Healthy plants from healthy soils

As a certified organic processor, that means we:

  • Use organic ingredients: Ingredients must either be certified organic or must comply with a pre-approved list of non-organic ingredients that cannot be produced organically. Organic ingredients cannot be produced using genetic engineering, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Meaning also all organic ingredients are inherently non-GMO.
  • Prevent comingling and contact between organic and non-organic items: Ensuring that organic and non-organic ingredients and substances don’t mix in processing or storage. Also, making sure that the processing and manufacturing equipment are cleaned and sanitized when shifting from non-organic to organic products.
  • Pest management: As an SQF Level 2 facility, we currently have HACCP and pest management protocols in place. The goal of the organic pest management strategy of “PAMS” (prevention, avoidance, monitoring and suppression) is to be wary and proactive to prevent pest issues before resorting to approved synthetic substances to eliminate pests. Therefore, we would ensure we are using approved synthetic substances.(United States Department of Agriculture, 2015)

The NOP maintains four different organic label classifications:

  • 100% Organic: This term is only used for agricultural items (i.e. Fruits and Vegetables). 100% Organic products can use the USDA Organic Seal and must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
  • Organic: Product contains at least 95% of organically produced ingredients (excludes water and salt). The remaining 5% of product ingredients must either consist of nonagricultural substances and/or non-organically produced agricultural products. These products are not commercially available in organic form and can be found on the National List. Products can display USDA Organic Seal and the certifying agent’s name and address.
  • Made with Organic ____: Products contain 70% of organic ingredients and can display up to three organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. Cannot display the USDA Organic Seal, cannot state “made with organic ingredients,” or identify finished product as organic, but must display the certifying agent’s name and address.
  • Specific Ingredient Listing: Products that are made with less than 70% of organic ingredients may list organic ingredients only on the ingredient statement on the information panel. These products cannot use the term organic on the principal display panel, cannot use the USDA Organic Seal, and cannot display a certifying agent’s name and address. (Coleman, 2012)

We are striving for our in house products to fall under the Organic classification in which 95% of all ingredients are organic.


Label Term USDA Organic Seal Organic Claim on Principal Display Panel Display Certifying Agent & Address Identify Organic Ingredients listed in Information Panel
100% Organic  check mark 4  check mark 4  check mark 4  check mark 4
Organic  check mark 4  check mark 4  check mark 4  check mark 4
Made with Organic _____ check mark 4*  check mark 4  check mark 4
Specific Ingredient Listing  check mark 4

*Allowed to list up to three ingredients or ingredient categories on the principal display panel. Cannot identify finished product as organic or state “made with organic ingredients” on principal display panel.


USDA Organic Seal







Learn more about organic here.

Non- GMO

GMO stands for genetically modified organisms and consists of “organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This relatively new science creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacteria and viral genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.” (Non-GMO Project, 2015)

Consumers are demanding more transparency in their labels and desire minimal processing with ingredients that they recognize and are not genetically engineered. The state of Vermont has passed legislation to require all foods sold in the state to be labeled “Produced with Genetically Engineering” if the product contains GMOs.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that provides verification for non-GMO products and serves to educate consumers while also working to preserve and build the non-GMO food supply. They are one of the more well-known organizations dedicated to providing verification for non-GMO products.

Items that bear the Non-GMO Project verified seal have gone through a verification process that requires:

  • Continuous testing of all at-risk ingredients (i.e. corn and soy)
  • Products must not contain more than 0.9% of GMOs
  • Segregation of non-GMO products/ingredients from GMO products/ingredients
  • Traceability and information regarding ingredients
  • Annual audit

Non-GMO Project Seal


Learn more about Non-GMO here.

Check back as we continue to demystify and explain food terms and labels in this series.


Coleman, P. (2012, November). Guide for Organic Processors. Retrieved from USDA National Organic Program:

Non-GMO Project. (2015). What is GMO? Retrieved from Non-GMO Project:

United States Department of Agriculture. (2015, September). Introduction to Organic Practices. Retrieved from USDA National Organic Program: