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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5 Responses to Organic, Holistic, Natural – what does it all mean?
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Brandon Forder, Brandon Forder. Brandon Forder said: What does #organic actually mean? Find out here #dogs #nutrition [...]

  2. NaturPet
    Twitter: NaturPet
    October 2, 2010 | 2:24 pm

    Just a bit of info on natural herbal medicine and the benefits of choosing liquid based products for your pet…

    The goal of all natural medicine is the restoration of balance and equilibrium of the body to maintain good health. Herbal medicine, or phytotherapy, is one of the oldest systems of natural medicine used. Nothing is more natural than harnessing the healing powers of the plants, flowers and roots around us. Animals, in the wild, have an uncanny ability to seek out and eat plants that will help them when they are ill or injured. Natural herbal products work with their bodies to restore its natural function by correcting poor health, and maintaining good health.

    Herbal products are formulated to release the necessary active ingredients from the herb, or blend of herbs, that are appropriate for the intended use. It is the absorption of these key active ingredients that determine their effectiveness. Liquid-based herbal products provide the most rapid absorption and therefore the most efficient results.

    For products taken orally, liquid-based herbal products begin to be absorbed upon entering the mouth. While in the mouth liquid herbal products also stimulate digestive enzymes for increased efficiency of absorption, as they continue through the digestive system. This is of significance since the digestive system is often compromised in times of ill health. Liquid products are easy to administer. They can be mixed with warm water, mixed with food or dropped directly into your pet’s mouth.

    Hope this is helpful. ;)

    • Brandon
      October 3, 2010 | 11:34 am

      Very helpful, thanks for the comment!

  3. [...] your pet has allergies due to diet or environment, behavioural issues, medical problems, etc – we have developed programs over [...]

  4. [...] You have some great questions. The word "holistic" doesn’t really mean anything at all when applied to dog foods. It sounds good to buyers, because they assume that the food is organic, natural, healthy, or human-grade. Here’s a good website that defines the terms you may be seeing on dog food bags: [...]

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