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Shopping Guide: Organic vs. All-Natural: What's the Difference?

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's All About Organics Page and our Myth of Natural Page.

These days, a trip to the grocery store can be overwhelming. Do you buy organic? Or are all-natural products just as good? What about chemical free?

The Food and Drug Administration has taken some steps to make food labeling clearer, but it's easy to get misled by product labels. To become a more informed shopper, experts recommend doing research to learn what different terms and claims mean so you can better read labels while shopping.

To be labeled organic and bear the USDA certified organic seal, food and other products must be certified by a third-party agency that uses standards overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, experts say.

What's more, whether it's a manufacturer or a farmer seeking the seal, the three-year transition to organic and the attainment of the USDA certification seal is rigorous. Use of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering and sewage sludge are prohibited, explains Janie Hoffman, founder and CEO of food company MammaChia and author of Chia Vitality.

But there is no standard for the natural label. A grower or manufacturer could include some or all of the components banned in organic products in an item and still stick 'natural' on the label, claims Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Organization.

The "natural" standards vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, adds Urvashi Rangan, executive director of food safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports. Products may contain a Natural Products Association (NPA) label but growers and manufacturers all do things a little differently.