What non-organic ingredients can be added in organic food processing?

In the European Union (EU), regulations only define that the product shall be produced mainly from ingredients of agricultural origin, but clear definitions and specifications are not listed, allowing room for interpretation.[62] Yet, within the EU list of approved food additives, there is a restricted list of non-organic products and substances allowed for use in organic processing when no organic-approved alternative method is available, if the food cannot be produced without it or if it is legally mandatory to use certain additives (e.g. synthetic vitamins B and iron in bread flour).[63] These include authorised additives, processing aids, flavourings, preparations of microorganisms and enzymes, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, amino acids and other micronutrients for particular nutritional uses.[62]

However, EU regulations specify that ‘substances and techniques that reconstitute properties that are lost in the processing and storage of organic food, that correct the results of negligence in the processing of these products or that otherwise may be misleading as to the true nature of these products shall not be used’.[62]

In the USA, non-agricultural substances and non-organically produced agricultural substances may also be used in the processing of food labelled as organic. A list of additives (both organic and synthetic) allowed for use in organic food processing includes 79 non-agricultural ingredients approved if not commercially available in organic form, compared to over 3000 substances added in conventional processed food.[64]

Are organic-approved substances allowed to be used in nano scale in organic food?

In both European Union (EU) and US organics regulations, no limits or restrictions are in place to control the nanoparticle extent in statutorily organic-approved substances, despite growing concerns about the potential harmful effects of engineered nanoparticles. Despite a recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board ‘that Engineered Nanomaterials be prohibited from certified organic products as expeditiously as possible’,[65] as yet, no action has been taken by US or EU governments.

How much of an organic processed food product must be made of organic produce?

In the European Union, ‘organic’, ‘bio’ and ‘eco’, alone or combined, can only be used if at least 95% (by weight) of the product’s agricultural origin ingredients are organic.[66] Nevertheless, regulations do not specify how much of the whole product should be of agricultural origin, and this varies depending on different certification bodies, with some requiring as little as 50% content of agricultural origin. Regulations state that an ‘organic’ label cannot be used for a product containing GMOs (genetically modified organisms) or produced from GMOs.[66]

In the USA, regulations are more exhaustive and define that ‘100 percent organic’ can only be used for a product that contains 100% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water), while ‘organic’ can only be a product that contains a minimum of 95% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water), where up to 5% of ingredients may be non-organic agricultural products that are not commercially available as organic and/or non-agricultural products that are on the National List. The term ‘made with organic’ can only be used to label a product that contains at least 70% organic ingredients (excluding salt and water), with restrictions on the ingredients permitted in the non-organic portion; these products cannot use the United States Department of Agriculture organic seal or the word ‘organic’ on the principal display panel.[67] A clear list defines non-agricultural substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘made with organic’ (specified ingredients or food group),[68] as well as non-organically produced agricultural products allowed in or on processed products labelled as ‘organic’.[69]

62. Official Journal of the European Union (2007), Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007, Article 19. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2007:189:0001:0023:EN:PDF
63. Official Journal of the European Union (2007), Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007, Articles 21 and 22. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2007:189:0001:0023:EN:PDF
64. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration (2011), Everything Added to Food in the United States (EAFUS).  https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm115326.htm
65. National Organic Standards Board, Formal Recommendations (2010), Guidance document – Engineered Nanomaterials in Organic Production, Processing and Packaging. https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/NOP%20Materials%20Final%20Rec%20Engineered%20Nonomaterials.pdf 
66. Official Journal of the European Union (2007), Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007, Article 23. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2007:189:0001:0023:EN:PDF
67. US Government Publishing Office, Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, Title 7: Agriculture, Part 205: National Organic Program, §205.301. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=a5b155ba6da8c49616dcd44de509f65d&mc=true&n=pt7.3.205&r=PART&ty=HTML
68. US Government Publishing Office, Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, Title 7: Agriculture, Part 205: National Organic Program, §205.605. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=a5b155ba6da8c49616dcd44de509f65d&mc=true&n=pt7.3.205&r=PART&ty=HTML
69. US Government Publishing Office, Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, Title 7: Agriculture, Part 205: National Organic Program, §205.606. https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=a5b155ba6da8c49616dcd44de509f65d&mc=true&n=pt7.3.205&r=PART&ty=HTML