Organic Food Organic Gardening

The Word ‘organic’ Without the OMRI Seal Doesn’t Mean Much

Bill was visiting our local hardware store recently when the word “organic” caught his eye on a couple of the bags in a stack of gardening products outside the store. He didn’t take a close look, but thought it interesting that this particular store might now be carrying organic products.

Next time he planned a visit to the store, I asked him to check to see if any of the bags had the OMRI seal.

The OMRI seal would indicate that the Organic Materials Review Institute had determined that the product qualified for use in organic gardens under the National Organic Program.

When he checked for me, there was no OMRI seal.

There were Two Products that Used the Word Organic:

#1 – Natural and Organic Mushroom Compost
contains natural ingredients for beautiful plants
blend of composted forest products, regional compost and mushroom compost

#2 – Natural and Organic Composted Cow Manure

To the unsuspecting organic gardener/buyer that might sound wonderful.

But Is It?

The word ‘organic’ on fertilizers and gardening products often refers to the chemical composition of the product.

For example

  • In Organic Composted Cow Manure the ingredient is composted manure. Manure is derived from living matter, thus it is organic by the dictionary definition.

What you don’t know, is whether it has residual herbicides or antibiotics or other undesirable stuff in it.

You’ll want the OMRI seal on the product you buy to insure that’s it’s really suitable for your organic garden.

  • The Natural and Organic Mushroom Compost is a blend of composted forest products, regional compost and mushroom compost.

The buyer has no idea if the forest products were sprayed or what they contained. The same applies to the regional compost. (At the end of the post I’ve listed several related posts you may want to review for more detail.)

Mushroom Compost

Mushroom compost is what commercial growers use to grow mushrooms. It sounds innocent enough, but when you find out what it really is you may not want it for your garden.

Various materials are composted to obtain the growing medium (a/k/a mushroom compost) for the mushrooms. Each grower has their own recipe. Materials can include rye or wheat straw, peat moss, cottonseed meal, cottonseed hulls, corncobs, cocoa bean shells, canola meal, grape crossings (from wineries) gypsum, lime, chicken manure, horse stable bedding, soybean meal, urea, and a few other things.

In addition, mushroom farmers are known to have a lot of problems with flies and fungus gnats and fungal infections. They spray regularly with a variety of harmful chemicals. Thus, the chemicals are in the mushroom compost.

Without the OMRI seal the buyer has no way of knowing if the product contains residual herbicides, chemicals, and/or genetically modified products.

The Word “natural”

Always be a bit leery when you see the word “natural” used on any product. At best, it could have the dictionary definition of “existing in or caused by nature; not made by humans.” But mostly, it is a marketing gimmick to grab the unsuspecting buyer. It means nothing.

Final Thoughts

As “organic” becomes more and more popular we need to always question when we see the word “organic” on a product.  Look for the OMRI seal to make sure that it really qualifies as organic under the rules of the National Organic Program.

If a gardening product doesn’t have the seal, look for wording along the lines of “acceptable for use in organic production.”

The National Organic Program is far from perfect, but currently it’s our best bet in the market place.

Addendum – August 15,2023 – Sadly the decline of the NOP is taking place at a rapid pace.  I have just learned that now even animals considered organic can have chemicals injected into them and thus those chemicals may also be in end product such as manures, bone meal. Talk about a step down! I think they fell off the cliff!

Thus, the OMRI  seal will no longer help (in most cases) we who want to keep out garden free from chemicals and poisons and other harmful substances.

Related Posts:

Municipal Compost Manures – Should you Use Them?

Care of Plants – Organic Fertilizer – Organic Pesticides – Manures

Manures – Good or Bad for the Organic Garden?

Residual Herbicides in Composts – Part 1

Compost – Mulch – Residual Herbicides – What you can do about them in your garden

Compost – Hay – Residual Herbicides – Extension Office Advice – A Readers Experience

All content including photos is copyrighted by  All Rights Reserved.


  • Well Theresa, This is timely.

    I have the opportunity to get a pick up truck of mushroom compost for $1 if I shovel it in myself. I’ve been tempted, but something just held me back. I’ve heard wonderful things about how well vegetables grow in soil amended with this product, and we have a restaurant in our area that has a fantastic looking kitchen garden all grown with truckloads of mushroom compost. Plants do well in it, no doubt. But, there’s no way to ensure that it has not been spayed or otherwise and in a large mushroom production, the most expedient way is always the chemical route. Because of this post, I’ll pass.
    Thanks for helping me make this decision, Theresa.

  • “AND” is a big word here, as in “Natural AND Organic.”
    It contains both natural AND organic materials. The result is very much not completely organic. A brilliant (and nefarious) marketing ploy.

    It works the same way as “Made WITH natural ingredients”. The product may contain natural ingredients, but the product in its totality is certainly not.

    Keep teaching, Theresa! Love what you do.

    By the way, I was one of the first (I think) to purchase your garden book, Organic Gardening. Absolutely love it. Good work!

  • Sandra, your comment makes me so glad that I pushed on to get this post up last night. The words “mushroom compost” have a tendency to make gardeners feel all warm inside. And then we find out “the rest of the story.”
    Sure glad I could help you!

    Good to hear from you Frank! Thanks for this input.
    And yes, you were one of the first to purchase my book back in March. I’m so pleased that you “love it.”
    Appreciate your encouragement. I sure need it with all the “internet/website” problems I’ve had of late. If I can get the financial resources to keep TMG up and running, I have some great things planned to share with readers!

  • Yes, I was feeling excited to try this great new medium – and for only a dollar a truckload. Too good to be true.

Leave a Comment