USDA Organic or Natural: Which Food Label is Best?

Food labels are so confusing and who really has the time to rummage through the chaos of different food labels and their meanings?  Which is better for you? What are the differences?

When I was first diagnosed with food allergies, I got to know the ingredients section of food labels very well. I could tell you within a second if the product had gluten or corn (or corn derivatives) in it.  The list that I had was left with was very small and I was pushed back to the produce section of the store…which is not a bad thing.

However, I had an ethical dilemma and wanted to eat locally produced products (I like knowing where my food has come from) as well as organic.  Well, this was a lot harder for me to find.  Whole Foods had a section designated for locally produced, but they weren’t necessarily Organic.  Other grocery stores didn’t have this “local” section, but did claim they were organic and then some other foods had a specific USDA Organic label on them.

I felt bamboozled.  The grocery stores labeled things one way, the food industry told me differently, and everything claimed to be “Natural”.   I took it upon myself to figure all of these labels out and decided to share with you.



From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.


“The organic standards describe the specific requirements that must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before products can be labeled USDA organic. Overall, organic operations must demonstrate that they are protecting natural resources, conserving biodiversity, and using only approved substances”


“GMOs, or “genetically modified organisms,” are plants or animals created through the gene splicing techniques of biotechnology (also called genetic engineering, or GE). This experimental technology merges DNA from different species, creating unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes that cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding. The verification seal indicates that the product bearing the seal has gone through our verification process.


100% Organic and guarantees that your coffee is coming from an ethically sourced farm that is environmentally friendly and good for the birds.


They are only handled by companies who demonstrate decent working conditions for all their staff. Fair for Life brand holder companies commit to fair sourcing practices and responsibilities towards their primary producers down the commodity chain. Fair for Life certification of products also confirms traceability of all certified products from production to sales.


The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards in a variety of fields. Through RA-Cert, the Rainforest Alliance’s auditing division, we provide our forestry, agriculture and carbon/climate clients with independent and transparent verification, validation and certification services based on these standards, which are designed to generate ecological, social and economic benefits.


The Fair Trade certification model is designed and audited to ensure equitable trade practices at every level of the supply chain. To earn a license from Fair Trade USA to use the Fair Trade Certified™ label on their products, companies must buy from certified farms and organizations, pay Fair Trade prices and premiums and submit to a rigorous supply chain audits. This process entails a high level of transparency and traceability in their global supply chains.


The goal of the association is to promote the grassfed industry through government relations, research, concept marketing and public education



We set standards or rules that farmers must follow before they can sell their meat, eggs and dairy products using the AWA logo. Our standards have been developed in collaboration with scientists, veterinarians, researchers, and farmers across the globe to maximize practicable, high-welfare farm management.

By educating yourself on the knowledge of these food labels, we are getting a choice as to what we want to eat.  Buy the products with the labels that fit your ethos and share this information with others.  Another great guide to food labels is the AWA Published Reports.

For a downloadable copy of this guide click Food Labels.

(The information that was provided next to the logo was taken directly off of the food labels site)

By | 2015-01-13T21:12:38+00:00 June 25th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: , , , |1 Comment

About the Author:

At Mary Lee Kitchen, we believe that what we eat matters. Each of us has the right to know what is in our food. Over the years the food industry has negatively impacted our health and well being. This has caused the rise of food allergies, food sensitivities, rise in child obesity- which are just a few of the harmful side effects of the food manufactures created. It is time for us to implement change. I am a food artisan that creates allergy free products that are made in a sustainable way. Through my own experience with rare food allergies, I have learned how to cook in a way that is inclusive for all diets. Through food education, recipes, and products I support the gathering of all people around the kitchen table.

One Comment

  1. […] This is a revised post of one published on June 25, 2014 […]

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