Organic, Holistic, Natural – what does it all mean?

I am often queried by clients who have become overwhelmed from the myriad of pet food terminologies, and get completely lost trying to figure out what all these terms actually mean.

Manufacturers don’t make it any easier by playing with these words, and in many cases giving false impressions of the product.

I have seen: Organix, Organik, Holistik, Organics, and many other terms that suggest the product is something it may not necessarily be.

So what does it all mean? Let’s break it down.

What is Organic?

The USDA‘s (United States Department of Agriculture) National Agricultural Library lists Organic as:

  • “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
  • “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
  • “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
  • “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”

Like human food, organic ingredients need to be certified by the USDA, or whichever governing body oversees the process in their respective country.

This is what you’re looking for.

The USDA has developed strict product labeling rules to help consumers know the exact organic content of the food they purchase.

Essentially, there are four labeling categories based on the amount of certified organic ingredients in your pets food:

100% Organic

All products labeled in this manner must contain only certified organically produced ingredients. Generally, these are single ingredient products.


All products labeled in this manner must contain 95-100% certified organic ingredients. Some essential vitamins and minerals may not be available in organic form which prevents using the 100% label.

Made with Organic Ingredients

Must contain at least 70% certified organic ingredients. A third party certifying agency’s mark may also be shown on the principle display panel. The USDA symbol cannot be used on the packaging.

Less than 70% Organic Ingredients

These products cannot use the term “organic” anywhere on the package except in the ingredient list. The government approved organic certifying agency must be displayed. The USDA symbol cannot be used.

What is Holistic?

This is a tricky one since there really isn’t a government body certification for holistic ingredients.

According to the dictionary, this is what holistic means:

a. Emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts.

b. Concerned with wholes rather than analysis or separation into parts.

Google image search result for “Holistic” – no wonder consumers are confused.

Using this term for pet foods is most misleading because there is no reference as to how your dog’s food ingredients are sourced.

What is Natural?

According to AAFCO (the American Association of Feed Control Officials), the definition of “natural” is as follows:

A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.

This definition is pretty self-explanatory, but essentially any “natural” ingredient is free of any avoidable chemical interference.

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