Do you know the difference between USDA Certified Organic, organic, fair trade, and other terms frequently used in the hemp industry?

With all of the talk lately about the hemp industry, new rules, and varying certifications, we thought it would be a good time to outline the differences between some of these terms and provide more clarity as to what they are.

USDA Organic vs. Organic

What does the USDA Certified Organic label mean?

USDA Certified Organic – Strict production and labeling requirements:

  •  Produced without excluded methods (e.g., genetic engineering), ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge.
  • Produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List).
  • Overseen by a USDA National Organic Program- authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.

Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. Organic produce must be grown on soil with no prohibited substances (synthetic fertilizers and pesticides) used for three years before harvest. (5)

Organic – Can a product be labeled “organic” without being certified?

  • Overall, if you make a product and want to claim that it or its ingredients are organic, your final product probably needs to be certified. If you are not certified, you must not make any organic claim on the principal display panel or use the USDA organic seal anywhere on the package*. On the information panel, you may only identify the certified organic ingredients as organic and the percentage of organic ingredients.
  • *Some operations are exempt from certification, including organic farmers who sell $5,000 or less.

Entities who sell or label a product “organic” when they know it does not meet USDA standards can be fined up to $17,952 for each violation. (3)

The four categories of labeling based on product composition & the labeling specifications for each are summarized below.

100% Organic

  • contains 100 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water, which are considered natural)
  • Most raw, unprocessed farm products can be designated “100 percent organic.” 
  • Many value-added farm products with no added ingredients—such as grain flours, rolled oats, etc.—can also be labeled “100 percent organic.”

May include USDA organic seal and or 100 percent organic claim.

Must identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) or via asterisk or other mark.


These products must contain a minimum of 95 percent organic ingredients (excluding salt and water). Up to 5 percent of the ingredients may be nonorganic agricultural products and/or nonagricultural products on the National List. Nonorganic agricultural products and several nonagricultural products on the National List may only be used if they are not commercially available as organic.

  • May include USDA organic seal and/or organic claim.
  • Must identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) or via asterisk or other mark.

Made with Organic

These products must contain at least 70 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding salt and water). There are several detailed constraints regarding the ingredients that comprise the nonorganic portion.

  • May state “made with organic (insert up to three ingredients or ingredient categories).” Must not include USDA organic seal anywhere, represent finished product as organic, or state “made with organic ingredients.”
  • Must identify organic ingredients (e.g., organic dill) or via asterisk or other mark.

Specific Ingredient Listings 

These are products containing less than 70 percent organic contents – for example, “Ingredients: water, barley, beans, organic tomatoes, salt.”

  • These products must not include USDA organic seal anywhere or the word “organic” on the principal display panel.
  • May only list certified organic ingredients as organic in the ingredient list and the percentage of organic ingredients. The remaining ingredients are not required to follow the USDA organic regulations.

Exemptions & Exclusions

Producers who market less than $5,000 worth of organic products annually are not required to apply for organic certification. However, the producers must comply with the regulations’ organic production and handling requirements, including recordkeeping (records must be kept for at least three years). The products from such noncertified operations cannot be used as organic ingredients in processed products produced by another operation; such noncertified products also are not allowed to display the USDA certified organic seal.

Other terms

US Hemp Authority Verified.

This system of accountability will ensure that consumers are provided with the following:

  • The product is sourced from legal hemp.
  • Manufacturers have taken steps to follow Good Manufacturing Practices. (GMP)
  • Growers have taken steps to follow Good Agricultural Practices. (GAP)
  • Companies have procedures in place for chain of custody and safe employment practices.
  • Records of production of hemp, including information such as:
    • Sourcing of hemp seeds
    • Date of planting/harvesting
    • Site locations
    • Growth substrates or materials
    • Date of harvest
    • Destinations of manufacturing and sales

Fairtrade certified

Fair Trade certification requires companies to pass routine, rigorous evaluations by third-party auditors that track transactions along the supply chain between more than 1,200 companies and nearly 500 producer organizations. Becoming Fair Trade certified allows businesses to compete in international markets and, over time, expand their company.

Certified entities can sell their products with the Fair Trade Certified seal. A percentage of the profits, called the Fair Trade Premium, goes back to the producers, farmers, and workers to promote sustainable incomes and safe working conditions.

For consumers, the seal lets them know that the products they purchase meet the Fair Trade’s exacting standards and requirements while also making a positive difference in the world.

Vegan certified

The Vegan Awareness Foundation requires that products approved to carry the Certified Vegan Logo must:

  • Not contain meat, fish, fowl, animal by-products (including silk or dyes from insects), eggs or egg products, milk or milk products, honey, or honey bee products.
  • Involve no animal testing of ingredients or finished products by supplier, producer, manufacturer, or independent party.
  • Provide supplier verification that animal products were not used in the manufacturing of ingredients.
  • Contain no known animal-derived GMOs or genes used to manufacture ingredients or finished products.

Companies must submit and have approved by the Vegan Awareness Foundation that acceptable steps are taken to thoroughly clean and sanitize all surfaces, vessels, utensils and machinery used between vegan and non-vegan production cycles to minimize cross-contamination if shared machinery is used.

Gluten-free certified

  • All ingredients utilized in GFCO certified products are required to go through a stringent review process of approval. All ingredients must contain 10ppm or less of gluten.
  • Barley-based ingredients are not allowed in GFCO certified products. GFCO requires ongoing testing of finished products and high-risk raw materials and equipment.
  • All manufacturing plants producing GFCO certified products undergo, at minimum, an annual inspection and are required to submit finished product testing regularly for the GFCO for review.
  • Compliance with all government regulations for allergens, gluten-free labeling, and Good Manufacturing Practices is required.