We’re asked this question all the time. Here are some basic, concrete differences:
1) If an ingredient or product is certified organic, it is, by definition, natural. But, it doesn’t work the other way. If an ingredient or product is natural, it is not, by definition, organic.
This is really important. The words “organic” and “natural” cannot and should not be used interchangeably and yet they are. It’s OK to talk about an organic product as also being natural but you can’t assume that a natural product is also organic.
2) There is a very specific, comprehensive, highly regulated federal program that governs “organic” in the US – the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). No such program exists for “natural”.
This is also really important. While several regulatory agencies have different responsibilities as it relates to governing what constitutes “natural” from a product, ingredient, processing and packaging standpoint, nothing exists with the same “teeth” as the USDA’s NOP.
For example, the USDA’s NOP requires that manufacturing facilities shut down their production lines for an intensive cleaning regimen for up to 24 hours prior to running organic products. Detailed documentation is required to support the cleaning conducted.
Through organic certifying agencies, all products and ingredients are reviewed and approved for organic certification. All are held to the same standards whether the product or ingredient is grown or made in the USA or elsewhere.
The inclusion of non-organic ingredients in certified organic products is strictly regulated.
Organic chicken farmers are required to maintain detailed logs of every chick hatched, its growth, feeding, and overall care. Specific regulations govern all aspects. Producers are subject to annual inspections and surprise inspections (as are manufacturers of organic products/ingredients).
Packaging is highly regulated in terms of what can be said/not said on an organic product/ingredient.
Organic ingredients cannot be grown/produced using chemical fertilizers or pesticides, antibiotics, or added growth hormones.
These are only several examples of the rigors of the NOP. There is no such third-party review, approval and monitoring process in place for “natural”.
So what does this really mean to you?
Buying a certified organic product should enhance your level of confidence in the quality and safety of that product as a result of the USDA’s NOP. Organic certification elevates ingredients and products to the top of the quality scale, followed by those that are natural.
Expect to pay a bit more for organic given all of the additional costs incurred by manufacturers and growers to meet the NOP’s requirements. For this, I believe you can also expect more in terms of the overall quality and safety of certified organic products and even the nutrient availability. An increasing number of studies are proving this too.
You have choices. Depending on what’s important to you and what’s in your budget, you have many outstanding organic and natural options. Call or email us for more information about your options in the pet food world!