MAY 1, 2003:
Here are some of the certification-related questions you’ve
asked us recently, along with responses from our answer team.
Does the "manure" from earthworms have to meet the
same criteria as other
No. According to the NOSB Compost Task Force, earthworm castings
are “finely divided organic material produced non-thermophilically
due to interactions between aerobic microorganisms and earthworms,
as organic material passes through the earthworm gut.”
It makes no sense that earthworm castings would have to meet
the same requirements as manure. Otherwise, it would be a
violation of the regulation to have earthworms defecating
in your soil less than 120 days prior to harvest of a crop
for human consumption if the crop contacts the soil.
The manure requirements at §205.203.c.1 do not apply
to earthworm castings, as the language specifically says “animal
and plant materials include: 1) Raw animal manure, which must
be composted.” The NOP definition of manure describes
“excreta from livestock”, which does not apply
to invertebrates such as earthworms that are either native
or used in soil building processes, and not raised “for
food or in the production of food.”
compost made using earthworm castings have to meet the NOP
compost temperature requirements?
Earthworm castings are often not composted and since they
are not classified as “manure” there is no requirement
for composting them prior to application. If earthworm castings
are composted using animal manures as feedstock in a product
sold or claimed to be "compost", then there would
need to be verification that the NOP composting requirements
have been fulfilled.
Do strawberry plants need to be organic?
Planting stock for perennial crops can come from conventional
sources if managed organically for 12 months prior to organic
harvest. (§205.204.a.4). Planting stock (“any plant
or plant tissue other than annual seedlings”, including
garlic bulbs, potato tubers, etc.) used for annual crops may
be from non-organic sources if organic sources are documented
as not commercially available. ( §205.204.a.1).When strawberries
are grown as an annual crop, the planting stock is considered
the same as other annual planting stock, and can be from non-organic
sources if no organic stock (tips, plugs or crowns) is commercially
available. This is a common production system in Florida and
California and is becoming more common elsewhere.
Is there a certain level of GMO contamination that will still
allow a crop to be designated as organic? My understanding
is that there is, since it is becoming increasingly unavoidable,
but I have not found anything in black and white to confirm
this. Does section 205.671 “Exclusion from organic sale”
mean that <5% GMO contents detected would still be considered
organic? It doesn’t specifically mention GMO contamination.
Here's what the section says:
205.671 Exclusion from
“When residue testing detects prohibited substances
at levels that are greater than 5% of the EPA’s tolerance
for the specific residue detected or unavoidable residual
environmental contamination, the agricultural product must
not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced.”
The regulation does not establish a tolerance or threshold
level for GMO contamination. Section 205.671, as referenced
in your question, applies only to contaminants for which there
is an established EPA tolerance (organic products must contain
less than 5% of these specific thresholds of pesticide residues)
or for “unavoidable residual environmental contamination”
which is described in the preamble as the FDA action level
for poisonous or deleterious substances in food or animal
feed (Fed Reg 80631). FDA action levels are set for illegal
pesticides or heavy metal contamination. §205.671 does
not apply to "excluded methods" (GMOs) because there
are no tolerances set by EPA or FDA, since GMOs are not considered
“contaminants” by these agencies.
Section 205.670(b) directs certifying agents to collect samples
for residue analysis "when there is reason to believe
that the agricultural input or product has come into contact
with a prohibited substance or has been produced using excluded
methods." The preamble clarifies further (Fed Reg 80632)
that; “As was also discussed in the proposed rule, these
regulations do not establish a "zero tolerance"
standard. As with other substances not approved for use in
organic production systems, a positive detection of a product
of excluded methods would trigger an investigation by the
certifying agent to determine if a violation of organic production
or handling standards occurred. The presence of a detectable
residue alone does not necessarily indicate use of a product
of excluded methods that would constitute a violation of the
Despite the fact that the regulation does not set a tolerance
level for GMO contamination, many buyers set their
own tolerance levels for high risk crops. Anyone
growing corn, soybeans, cotton, or canola should know the
buyer's requirements, and follow protocols to protect the
crop from GMO contamination.
Can animals in organic systems be vaccinated, for example,
with C&D, tetanus, etc.?
Yes, vaccinations are allowed under the organic livestock
regulations. Vaccines are listed as allowed materials on the
National List (§205.603.a.14). Genetically engineered
vaccines are not allowed unless listed on the National List
(none are approved so far).
there a difference between natural and synthetic compounds
in how they are evaluated for possible use in organic production?
Yes, natural (nonsynthetic) compounds are allowed in organic
production, unless specifically prohibited. Synthetic compounds
are prohibited unless specifically allowed. Here is the Rule’s
definition of synthetic: "A substance that is formulated
or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that
chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring
plant, animal, or mineral sources, except that such term shall
not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological
Both natural and synthetic substances are evaluated using
criteria contained in the Organic Foods Production Act, which
is inserted below:
In evaluating substances considered for inclusion in the proposed
National List or proposed amendment to the National List,
the Board shall consider
(1) the potential of such substances for detrimental
chemical interactions with other materials used in organic
(2) the toxicity and mode of action of the substance
and of its breakdown products or any contaminants, and their
persistence and areas of concentration in the environment;
(3) the probability of environmental contamination
during manufacture, use, misuse or disposal of such substance;
(4) the effect of the substance on human health;
(5) the effects of the substance on biological and
chemical interactions in the agroecosystem, including the
physiological effects of the substance on soil organisms
(including the salt index and solubility of the soil), crops
(6) the alternatives to using the substance in terms
of practices or other available materials; and
(7) its compatibility with a system of sustainable
6517(c)(2) Prohibition on the use of Specific
The National List may prohibit the use of specific natural
substances in an organic farming or handling operation that
are otherwise allowed under this chapter only if
(A) the Secretary determines, in consultation with
the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Administrator
of the Environmental Protection Agency, that the use of
(i) would be harmful to human health or the environment;
(ii) is inconsistent with organic farming or handling, and
the purposes of this chapter;
accredited certifiers are allowed and required to accept the
certification work of other USDA accredited and approved certifiers.
But consider this scenario:
- Certifier A and Certifier
B are both USDA and EU accredited.
- Certifier A has a processor
client who uses an ingredient certified by Certifier B.
However, B's client is certified only to EU standards as
he feels he does not have enough US business to justify
paying for the additional certification cost.
- Certifier B is willing
and able, based on current farm plans and inspection reports,
to verify that B does indeed meet any and all additional
requirements of the USDA.
Can Certifier A allow his client
to use the ingredients from Certifier B's EU certified client
which meets the USDA requirements but is not under USDA certificate?
The ingredients would need to be covered by a certificate
issued by a USDA (NOP) accredited certification agency. Either
certifier A or B, since they are NOP accredited, could review
all documents, and, if the documents verify NOP compliance,
issue an NOP certificate.
For a full list of your questions and our
answers as well as some highlighted articles, visit our certification
archives or click on the desired category below.
Allowed and Prohibited Substances