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
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
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
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.
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.
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.