Because we are moving, we surrendered our organic certification in May, 2012.
The products we are currently selling were, however, processed in our manufacturing facility that was certified organic. You'll therefore see the USDA organic seal, the name of our previous organic certification agent, as well as the certified organic claim on our product packages. We hope the information we are providing in our website on organic certification will help consumers make the best choices in an under-regulated industry.
What requirements does pet food need to meet to become certified organic?
Organic certification of pet foods currently* follows exactly the same requirements and standards as those established for organic human foods by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP).
Only pet food products that contain at least 95% of organic ingredients** can display the USDA organic seal and show the 'certified organic' statement. These products also need to disclose the name of the USDA-accredited certifying agent. Organic (or rather 'certified organic' - see below) pet foods may not contain conventionally grown ingredients if organic versions are available, nor may they contain any genetically engineered (GMO) ingredients.
Products that contain a minimum of 70%, but less than 95%, organic ingredients*** cannot display the USDA organic seal and cannot be marketed as 'certified organic' but may carry a 'made with organic' claim. However, even these 'made with organic' products need to disclose the name of the organic certifying agent on the packaging; the organic ingredients used in such products are declared on the ingredient panel.
Products labeled as '(certified) organic' or 'made with organic ingredients' can not include ingredients that are genetically engineered, produced using sewage sludge (which contains many toxins) or irradiation, synthetic substances that are not on the USDA National List of allowed substances, cannot contain sulfites, nitrates or nitrites, or include both organic and non-organic forms of the same ingredients.
A USDA-accredited certification agent inspects all records (e.g., all ingredients, production processes used, cleaning, sanitation, and pest control measures) as well as the manufacturing and storage facilities.
The manufacturing and ingredient and product storage facilities must necessarily be free of toxins (e.g., no toxic cleaning or pest control chemicals, etc).
Finally, the packaging of certified organic pet foods must be approved by a USDA-accredited organic certification agent to verify that 'organic' and other claims made are truthful.
* Currently, organic standards-specific for pet foods-are being developed. These standards will most likely allow the inclusion of more synthetic substances than are currently allowed for organic human and pet foods.
** The remainder may be non-synthetic substances that cannot be certified organic, such as fish or salt, or synthetic substances included on the National List.
*** The remainder may be non-organic agricultural ingredients, non-synthetic substances or synthetic substances that are included on the USDA National List.
Why should you care whether your pet's food is organic or not?
Organic pet foods are safer than conventional versions of the same foods because they:
1) are less contaminated with toxins such as those found in synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge or synthetic pesticides;
2) never contain GMOs which have been shown to both cause health problems and negatively impact the environment;
3) are free of synthetics, such as antibiotics or hormones, which can be used to produce conventional animal-based ingredients; and
4) contain ingredients that are fully traceable to their origins.
Increasing numbers of studies also show that organic ingredients are healthier than their conventional counterparts because they contain higher levels of healthful nutrients.
Furthermore, organic agriculture and products are more sustainable and safer for the environment than conventional agriculture and consumer products.
Green Seal considers "Organic certification as the most credible label for human and pet foods, also in respect to any green claims."
This is because organic certification is presently the only pet food claim that is regulated and enforced by the Federal government. Certified organic pet food manufacturers are currently under greater scrutiny (e.g., at least one yearly inspection and full disclosure of records, including the organic and non-GMO status of each ingredient used) by government agencies than conventional human food processing plants.
What should consumers look for to be sure that the pet food they are buying is, indeed, organic?
Consumers should look for
- the name of the certifying agency,
- the USDA organic seal, and/or
- the certified organic claim on the label of the pet food package.
These are three easy, telltale indications that a pet food product is USDA certified organic.
Unlike other claims, such as 'natural,' 'holistic,' 'premium,' etc., certified organic pet food claims are regulated and enforced by the Federal government. Remember that non-certified organic pet food claims are not regulated or enforced by the government. This means that pet food manufacturers can market their products as 'organic' even though no unbiased party has verified that any of the ingredients used are indeed organic, GMO-free, free of antibiotics or hormones, etc., or that production follows the NOP regulations in any way.
In the absence of the 'certified organic' statement and a USDA organic seal (their abuse is punishable by heavy fines), the term 'organic' is currently used very liberally in the pet food industry. As a result, there are many misleading marketing materials, including ads and website content, in which the term 'organic' is used for pet food products that aren't certified organic at all. In this respect, deceptive online content is particularly widespread. Remarkably-and unfortunately-this is perfectly legal.
Consumers should really be aware of this legal loophole. As one State compliance officer at CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture) states: "It is buyer beware of any pet food product that does not show that it is certified by one of the NOP certification agents."
Although USDA NOP rules define pet foods with a minimum of 95% of organic ingredients as 'organic', most manufacturers of such pet food products also use the 'certified organic' statement to assure consumers that their organic claim is justifiable. Again, as long as you see the name of the certifying agent, the certified organic claim, and/or the USDA organic seal(at least on the label where they need to be disclosed by law), you are indeed looking at a certified organic pet food product.
If you are in doubt about a product you see online, you can always request a copy of the manufacturer's organic certificate, which indicates which pet food products are indeed certified organic.
If (certified) organic pet foods are so much healthier, why aren't all pet foods organic? All pet food companies claim to have our pets' best interest at heart.
But, certified organic ingredients and products are more expensive. Using organic ingredients and making certified organic pet foods decreases profits. Some non-certified organic dog and cat food manufacturers claim that they use a few organic ingredients (though their claims cannot be verified) instead of simply using organic versions of all of their ingredients. For example, some companies use organic grains, which are considerably cheaper than organic meats. Of course, these manufacturers use this as a selling point in marketing their pet foods.