Sustainable Fashion

What are the “certified organic” standards?

Because crops differ from livestock and multi-ingredient products, these standards vary in their respective industries. Crops are generally considered products that are farmed and/or harvested and transformed into a commodity, ranging from rice and corn to cotton to blueberries. Livestock standards focus on animals including fish, meat and poultry, eggs and dairy by-products.

Organic Clothing

Here’s a brief look at each, as regulated by the USDA:


    • Crops and produce must be grown on soil that has had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest.

    • Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. In instances when a grower has to use a synthetic substance to achieve a specific purpose, the substance must first be approved according to criteria that examine its effects on human health and the environment.


    • Regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.


    • If a product is represented as organic, at least 95 percent of its ingredients must be certified organic. According to Jennifer Kaplan, an instructor with the Culinary Institute of America, “The remaining five percent of ingredients must be organically produced, unless commercially unavailable or allowed on the National List. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances lists the exceptions to the ‘organic only’ rule. In other words, there are [a number of] non-organic ingredients that can be included in organic foods.”

    • If a product touts a “made with” organic label, at least 70 percent must have certified organic ingredients, and even then, the USDA organic seal cannot be used.

    • Any products with less than 70 percent organic content can identify specific organic ingredients on their label, but nothing further.

It’s important to note that carrying an “organic” certification is not necessarily the same as being considered humane. Matthew Sherman, CMO of the USDA-certified organic Handsome Brook Farms, explains: “Remember that ‘organic’ certification is not necessarily a welfare statement, especially with livestock and livestock products. It refers to the feed and its additives as well as the land, but this does not mean that the animals are always treated well.” This means that in the case for eggs, for example, hens must be “cage-free” but they might still be stuffed into a crowded barn without the space to roam.

These standards may help stop bad practices, but it doesn’t necessarily promote good ones.

Sherman continues, “Conversely, welfare claims like free-range, grass-fed, or pasture-raised do not equate to organic, they just mean that the land has not been sprayed with pesticides or that the animals have not received antibiotics.” So if these additional standards are especially important to you, you’ll want to look for both organic and humane/wellness certifications, particularly on animal products. 


Lastly, these standards may help stop bad practices, but it doesn’t necessarily promote good ones. Abianne Falla, Co-Founder of CatSpring Yaupon, who went through the CCOF certification process shares: “I think we will start to see a shift in additional organic certifications for consumers to know when an ingredient or farmer is producing in a beneficial and sustainable way.” That's why CatSpring is pursuing an additional Regenerative Organic Certification so consumers can feel confident that the business is doing everything they can to positively impact our collective ecosystem.

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