Answers to Your Questions: SEPTEMBER

Developed by The New Farm® Answer Team

September 12, 2003: Here are some of the certification-related questions you’ve asked us recently, along with responses from our answer team.

1. 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 environment.

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.

2. As a 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. I 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 handling operation.”

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.

6. 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 cows?

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 baled cornstalks.

Certification Archives

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.


    1. General
    2. Certification
    3. Crop Production
    4. Livestock Production
    5. Handling
    6. Labeling
    7. Allowed and Prohibited Substances