Step 1: Look for the USDA Organic Seal
This might sound obvious, but there are many products out there (especially on Amazon) that claim to be organic but are not. The first step to ensuring something is truly organic is to look for the actual USDA seal. Without the seal, it’s not the real deal.
Step 2: Look for the third-party certifier
Every packaged USDA certified organic product must list their third-party certifying agency. The USDA itself doesn’t actually go out and certify products or operations–they certify and audit third-party certifying agencies who then will certify operations (farmers, producers, etc). You’ll find the third-party certifying agency on the back of the product, at the bottom. Common certifiers include QAI, Oregon Tilth, Organic Certifiers, and CCOF.
Step 3: Verify the company in the Organic Integrity Database
The USDA National Organic Program maintains a database of companies who have organic certification. Wondering if a company really is organic? Just check the database. Here’s the link.
The database is updated regularly, but newly certified operations may not be on the list yet, so just because you can’t find it in the database doesn’t necessarily mean organic fraud.
To make things more confusing, companies, especially in the cosmetics sector, will outsource their productions to labs who do have certification. So, a company may not be listed in the database but still offer a legitimately certified product because they outsourced to a certified processing facility.
Step 4: Contact the third-party certifier
If you can’t find the company in the Organic Integrity Database, contact the third-party certifying agency listed on the back of the product. If you can’t find the certifying agency, contact the company in question directly and ask who their third-party certifying agency is. This is information that should be easily given.
Once you know the certifying agency, you can find their website and contact info. Just ask them to verify the organic certification on the product in question, and you can even ask for a copy of the organic certificate for the product or producer.
Here’s a database of all third-party certifying agencies and their contact info.
How to Report Organic Fraud
If you find a product that doesn’t appear to be legitimately certified organic, don’t be shy about reporting it. There are only 5 people on staff in the National Organic Program that are in charge of enforcing organics. They need the help of consumers, certifiers, and people in the organic industry to help by reporting organic fraud.
For operations in California, report to: email@example.com
For operations anywhere other than California, report to: firstname.lastname@example.org