September 12, 2003:
Here are some of the certification-related questions you’ve
asked us recently, along with responses from our answer team.
As a crop, livestock, or handling operation, am I restricted
to use chlorine at the maximum residual disinfectant limit
specified under the Safe Drinking Water Act, currently 4 mg/L,
at the beginning of the wash/rinse water cycle?
The National Organic Program has interpreted the regulation
as requiring that chlorine levels must be documented as 4ppm
or less at the point of discharge from the facility into the
On May 14, 2003, the NOSB recommended that “levels
of chlorine used to prepare water to disinfect/sanitize tools,
equipment, or food contact surfaces may be higher than 4 mg/L
and should be at levels sufficient to control microbial contaminants.
If water containing higher levels of chlorine comes in direct
contact with organic crops or food products, there must be
a final, thorough rinse with potable water.”
Crop use of chlorine is generally limited to cleaning irrigation
systems, sterilizing equipment such as pruning shears, and
disinfecting seed, particularly sprouts. The intent of the
NOSB’s original November, 1995, recommendation was that
water in direct contact with crops or food should not have
a higher chlorine content than that found in municipal water
supplies - the “maximum residual disinfectant level”
as regulated by EPA. NOSB reaffirmed this position with the
guidance that higher levels of chlorine be could be used followed
by a rinse with potable water.
certified operator, at what point in crop, livestock or handling
operation should I monitor water for chlorine levels?
While the NOP has interpreted the regulation as requiring
that chlorine levels must be 4ppm or less at the point of
discharge from the facility, the NOSB recommended that certified
operators should monitor the chlorine level upstream of the
wash operation or rinse operation, where the water last contacts
the organic product. The level of chlorine in the water which
last contacts the organic food products must meet the 4 mg/L
limit as set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act. A description
of the operation’s monitoring procedure is to be contained
in the operation’s Organic System Plan. Documents which
demonstrate compliance are to be reviewed and verified during
the operation’s annual inspection.
What is the
‘maximum residual disinfectant level?”
“Maximum residual disinfectant level” is a term
defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the
highest level of a disinfectant allowed in drinking water.
This level is currently established by EPA at 4 mg/L for chlorine.
Practically applied under the National Organic Standards,
the term “maximum residual disinfectant level”
refers to the chlorine level of the wash or rinse water which
last contacts organic products.
What are some problems associated
with the use of chlorine?
Chlorine is known to form trihalomethanes when it reacts
with organic substances in water. These compounds include
substances such as chloroform, bromodichloromethane, and others
which are known or suspected carcinogens.
sell $4,000 to $9,000 of vegetables each year at a couple
of farmers markets and at our roadside stand. Can I label
my production as organic each year until I reach the $5000
limit and then take my organic sign down for anything I sell
over the $5000 limit?
The National Organic Standards section 205.101.a.1 states,
“A production or handling operation that sells agricultural
products as "organic" but whose gross agricultural
income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less annually is
exempt from certification under subpart E of this part and
from submitting an organic system plan for acceptance or approval
under § 205.201 but must comply with the applicable organic
production and handling requirements of subpart C of this
part and the labeling requirements of § 205.310. The
products from such operations shall not be used as ingredients
identified as organic in processed products produced by another
In other words, you don’t have to be certified if you
sell $5,000 or less per year of organic products. Once you
have surpassed the $5,000 sales mark, you need to remove all
signage, advertising, labels, and other market information
that refers to your products as “organic”. If
you continue to make any claims that your products are organic,
then your farm needs to be certified.
Please be advised that taking down “organic” signage
during the middle of the season may confuse consumers, and,
while technically allowed under the NOS, it is unfair to those
farmers who pay for certification and have to compete with
ones who do not.
I have some straw in my barn that I
baled in 2000. My farm was first certified organic in 2003.
Can I use my 2000 straw for bedding my certified organic dairy
Section 205.239.a.3 requires that organic livestock producers
provide “appropriate clean, dry bedding. If the bedding
is typically consumed by the animal species, it must comply
with the feed requirements of 205.237.” In other words,
if the animals typically eat the bedding, the bedding must
be organic. In your case, the cows would not normally eat
the straw. Therefore, the straw does not have to be organic—you
can use your 2000 straw as bedding. However, if you had baled
nonorganic corn stalks in 2000, you could not use them for
bedding your organic cattle, since cattle typically consumer
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