Terms You Should Know About Organic Living

Garden sprouts

100% Organic

All ingredients - the final product and anything used in processing - were grown and harvested according to USDA organic standards.


A process that eliminates impurities from yarn and fabric. Conventional production often uses chlorine for this process, but organic production uses hydrogen peroxide, which disintegrates quickly and balances pH levels.

Buffer Zone

A boundary that borders an organic production site and is used to keep forbidden substances away from the area.

Certified Organic

A USDA-accredited agency has confirmed that the farmer, company or business who raised and handled the product meets all USDA organic requirements.


Contact with any substance that makes an organic product ineligible for certification.


A technique or substance that is not organic.


Goods and services considered to impose minimal harm on the environment.

Fair Trade

Certification that a manufactured good, such as coffee or sugar, was produced by farm workers who were given a living wage and safe working conditions. Fair trade farming methods must be sustainable, though not necessarily organic.

Food Miles

The distance that food travels between the field and the grocery store.

Genetic Engineering

When DNA from different species is combined or altered to develop new organisms. This results in GMOs – genetically modified organisms – and is prohibited in organic production. Loose or bunched produce items may be identified as genetically modified in the grocery store by a PLU code that begins with an eight.


A safety technique that uses ionizing radiation to kill bacteria, parasites, and other harmful elements which is not allowed in the organic production of food and cotton.

Locally Grown

Definition varies, but generally means a product was grown in the local area. Whole Foods Market, for example, classifies products as “local” if they traveled seven or fewer hours from the farm to the store. Some people buy locally grown food because they like knowing their food was grown nearby and believe the reduction in transportation time (and therefore greenhouse gases emitted by vehicles) is better for the environment.

Low-Impact Dye

Dye that’s used in clothes processing that has minimal impact on the environment.

Made with Organic Ingredients

Must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.

Natural Dye

Pigment dye used in clothes processing made from natural substances, such as berries, vegetables, and bugs.

Natural Fibers

Substances found in nature, such as cotton, wool, and silk.


A way of growing and processing food and fibers that avoids the use of artificial ingredients, preservatives, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, hormones, antibiotics, or irradiation. Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, according to USDA regulations, and include the name of the certifying agency.


Food grown without the use of synthetic pesticides. This doesn’t mean that the food is completely free of pesticides: organic pesticides could have been used, or synthetic pesticide residue from neighboring farms could have blown onto crops.

PLU Code

Price look-up code. It contains four to five digits and is used to help cashiers in the grocery store price items that are sold loose or bunched, like bananas. It can also help you identify organic products. If a product’s PLU code begins with an eight, it is genetically modified; if it begins with a nine, it is organic.

Recycled Fibers

Substances that were previously used by consumers and then converted into fibers for further use.

Some Organic Ingredients

Identifies products that contain less than 70% organic ingredients.


Derivatives of sulfur used in conventional winemaking as preservatives and antioxidants. Certified organic wines cannot contain more than 100ppm (parts per million) of sulfites.

Sustainable Agriculture

A system of agriculture that promotes the well-being and longevity of natural and human resources through emphasis on environmental, economic and social factors. Organic production is often considered to fall under this definition.

Synthetic Materials

Man-made materials from petroleum and carbon derivatives, such as acrylic, nylon and spandex.


A product grown on a farm which is switching from conventional to organic farming. The product was grown according to USDA organic requirements, but either the soil was not chemical-free for the required length of time, or the farm was still in the process of gaining organic certification.

USDA Organic Seal

Found on products that are at least 95% organic, but the use of the seal is optional.

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