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Brands making organic food claims in product or in their actual brand names may soon have to change their labels as the USDA has announced it will be cracking down on the misuse of the word “organic” on foods that don’t meet the USDA’s certified organic criteria.

“The policy clarification is needed to provide fairness and equity in label use throughout the organic industry and to satisfy consumer expectations for organic products,” the National Organic Program wrote in an email to industry members.

“Unless a food product is certified organic it cannot display, overtly, the word ‘organic’ on the front panel of the product,” Mark A. Kastel, Codirector at The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, said in a statement.

The Cornucopia Institute filed a formal legal complaint against Newman’s Own Organics in 2010 for selling products that do not legally qualify for use of the word “organic.” Cornucopia says that because Newman’s Own Organics uses “organic” in its brand name, it’s a very misleading message when actual products do not meet organic standards. With the USDA announcement, Cornucopia says it will again file its legal complaint against Newman’s Own Organics.

Products that say “made with organic ingredients” on the label means that they meet the minimum USDA requirement of 70 percent organic ingredients. According to Cornucopia, Newman’s Own Organics didn’t even include organic ginger in its ginger cookies, “That’s what I call misleading!” said Kastel.

“We applaud the USDA for making this ruling, and instructions to organic certifiers, in tightening up the labeling requirements that will protect ethical industry participants and prevent consumers from being misled when they are cruising the grocery aisles,” Kastel added.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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