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
compost made using earthworm castings have to meet the NOP compost
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
205.671 Exclusion from organic
“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 standards.”
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
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 processes."
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
(1) the potential of such substances
for detrimental chemical interactions with other materials used
in organic farming systems;
(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
(4) the effect of the substance on
(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 and livestock;
(6) the alternatives to using the substance
in terms of practices or other available materials; and
(7) its compatibility with a system
of sustainable agriculture.
6517(c)(2) Prohibition on the
use of Specific Natural Substances.
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 such substances
(i) would be harmful to human health or the environment; and
(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
- 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
- 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
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.