Understanding Organic
Dog & Cat Foods

Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith

Organic FoodsThe word 'organic' seems to be around every corner these days, including the aisles of your local pet food store. Understanding what 'organic' really means can help you become a more informed pet parent.

What are "Organic Operations?"
Generally, organic operations are those farms and facilities which can verify they are using only approved substances, conserving biodiversity, and protecting natural resources. For organic crops, this means that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically-modified organisms are not used. For organic livestock, this means that producers meet animal health and welfare standards, don't use antibiotics or growth hormones, do use 100% organic feed, and provide animals with access to the outdoors.

Are there any rules about using the word 'Organic' on a food label?
Absolutely. In order to use the word 'organic' or the USDA ORGANIC seal on the label of a human food or animal feed, farmers and processors must follow very specific methods and standards established by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). These rules are known as the USDA Organic Regulations.

Who enforces organic product labeling rules?
Regulatory responsibility for enforcing the USDA's organic standards lies with the National Organic Program (NOP), which is part of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Organic certification agencies accredited by the NOP inspect and verify that organic farmers, ranchers, distributors, processors, and traders are complying with USDA organic regulations. Companies that violate USDA's organic standards can be punished with a fine.

What does 'Certified Organic' mean?
The USDA ORGANIC seal indicates the product has been 'certified' as organic, meaning it has been reviewed by a USDA National Organic Program (NOP)-authorized agent. Once the product passes the review, the agent certifies that the product has been produced following all USDA organic regulations. If you see the USDA ORGANIC seal, the product is certified organic and has at least 95 percent organic content. The remaining ingredients must be foods or additives from an approved list. The name of the certifying agency will be on the information panel, located on the back of the product label.

Are there other categories of organic products?
You may see other types of organic claims on labels, including these:

100% Organic:

  • All ingredients must be 'certified' organic.
  • Any processing aids must be organic.
  • Product label must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.
  • Front label may include USDA ORGANIC seal and/or 100% organic claim.


  • All agricultural ingredients must be certified organic, with certain exceptions.
  • Organic ingredients must be identified.
  • Product label must state the name of the certifying agent on the information panel.
  • Front label may include USDA ORGANIC seal and/or organic claim.

Where can I find out more?
For the rest of the story on organic labeling, go to the USDA's web page and search for National Organic Program.

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Reprinted from PetEducation.com.