- Crop Production
- Livestock Production
- National List of
Allowed and Prohibited Substances
What exactly is meant by “organic
Under the USDA’s National Organic Standards, “organic
production” is defined as “a production system
that is managed … to respond to site-specific conditions
by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices
that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance,
and conserve biodiversity.” In other words, organic
farms are farms which are managed in harmony with natural
I'm a small farmer. Do I have
to be certified to sell my products as “organic”
If your gross agricultural income from organic sales totals
$5,000 or less annually, you are exempt from certification
(see 205.101.a.1). You don’t have to complete an Organic
Farm Plan, but you must comply with the production and labeling
requirements of the National Organic Standards. You can sell
your products as “organic” or “organically
grown” at a farmers market, on-farm stand, CSA, or to
a retail outlet, but you cannot sell your products as organic
ingredients to be processed by others, and your products cannot
be represented as “certified organic” or display
the USDA Organic seal (unless you choose to get certified).
I am a small processor. Do I
have to be certified?
If your gross agricultural income from organic sales totals
$5,000 or less annually, you are exempt from certification
(see 205.101.a.1). You don’t have to complete an Organic
Handling Plan, but you must comply with the handling and labeling
requirements of the National Organic Standards. You cannot
sell your products as organic ingredients to be processed
by others, and your products cannot be represented as “certified
organic” or display the USDA Organic seal (unless you
choose to get certified).
What types of records need to
be maintained by small farms and small processors who are
exempt from certification?
The records need to fit the operation, and they need to demonstrate
that the operation has sold less than $5000/year in “organic”
farm products and/or less than $5000/year in “organic”
processed products. According to the National Organic Program’s
website http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Q&A.html, the records
should show that the operation complies with all applicable
production, handling, and labeling requirements, and non-use
of prohibited substances. Types of farm records might include
labels and receipts for all purchased inputs (including seeds
and seedlings); production and/or activity logs; field history
sheets; and harvest, storage, and sales records. Records should
be maintained for at least 3 years and must be available to
representatives of the USDA or State Organic Program upon
Besides these small farmers
and processors, who may use the term “organic”?
Any production or handling operation which is certified by
an accredited certifying agent may use the term "organic".
Retail operations may also use the term “organic”
without having to be certified, but they must have records
to show that they purchased organic goods in order to sell
these goods as organic. They must also abide by the labeling
requirements and protect organic products from commingling
and contamination. Handling operations do not have to be certified
if they handle only products that contain less than 70% organic
ingredients. In this case, they may identify “organic”
ingredients in a product’s ingredient statement but
must not use the word “organic” on the principle
display panel (front of package).
What is the difference between
a “handler” and a “processor”?
A “handler” includes any operation that receives,
packages, stores, sells, and/or processes agricultural products,
but does not include retailers who do not process products.
A “processor” is a subset of handler, and includes
any operation that cooks, bakes, cures, mixes, cuts, freezes,
jars, or otherwise manufactures products, including packaging
and enclosing in containers. All processors are considered
to be “handlers,” however handlers that do not
process are not required to be certified, if the products
remain in the same containers or packages they were received
in. These “excluded” handlers must be able to
show that organic products do not come in contact with prohibited
substances, or are not ‘commingled’ (mixed up)
with nonorganic products.
My organic certificate is valid
for how long?
Your organic certificate remains valid until you voluntarily
surrender your certification or your certification is suspended
or revoked by the certifying agent, the State Organic Program,
or the USDA. On an annual basis, you must update your Organic
Plan, pay certification fees, and be inspected. Failure to
do so will lead your certifier to propose suspension or revocation
of your certificate.
Does the National Organic Program (NOP) have a list of accredited
Yes. The NOP maintains a list of accredited certifying agents
posted on the NOP website at http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/CertifyingAgents/Accredited.html.
The list may also be obtained by request through the NOP office
at 1400 Independence Avenue, SW; Room 2510 South Building;
Washington, D.C.; 20250.
Who may use the “USDA
Any production or handling operation that is certified by
an accredited certifying agent,
regardless of where in the world the production or handling
operation is located. No operation
is required to use the seal. The USDA organic seal may not
be used on products which contain
less than 95% organic ingredients.
What are the penalties for misuse
of the term "organic"?
Any operation that knowingly sells or labels a product as
"organic", except in accordance with the Organic
Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the National Organic Standards,
may be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000
per violation and the provisions of 18 U.S.C 1001.
Who is responsible for enforcement
of the National Organic Program?
USDA, accredited certifying agents, and where applicable,
approved State Organic Programs are responsible for enforcement
of the national regulations.
If I believe that a violation
has occurred, how can I file a complaint?
Any person who believes that a violation of the National Organic
Program has occurred may file a complaint with the USDA’s
AMS Compliance Division. Mailing Address: NOP Compliance,
Agricultural Marketing Service, United States Department of
Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Mail Stop 0203
- Room 3529-S, Washington, D.C. 20250. Tel: (202) 720-8311.
Fax: (202) 205-5772. Email: NOPcompliance@usda.gov
Persons with complaints about certified operations may also
direct their complaints to the applicable certifying agents.
To file a complaint, what information
When you report a suspected violation, be prepared to provide
as much detailed information as possible. (Who? What? Where?
When? Why? and How?). Be sure to include documentation of
these details when available. Complete and accurate information
helps ensure that the issue can be successfully investigated.
Provide your name and contact information if you are willing
to discuss the issue further with an NOP Compliance staff
How detailed does my Organic
System Plan have to be?
The Organic System Plan must be detailed enough for the certifying
agent to determine that your operation is in compliance with
the National Organic Standards. It must describe your farming
practices; list all fertility, weed, pest, disease control,
and seed inputs you use and/or intend to use, including all
ingredients in these input products; list all crops grown
and products produced; describe your fertility, pest, weed,
and disease management and monitoring programs; explain your
recordkeeping system; contain field maps; describe how you
prevent commingling and contamination; include a complete
description of any labels you use or plan to use on organic
products; and contain other information requested by the certifying
agent to determine compliance. (See 205.201.a.1-6)
Do I have to follow the Organic
System Plan I have filed with my certifying agent?
Yes. Your Organic Plan is a detailed description of how your
operation will achieve, document, and sustain compliance with
the organic regulations. It is the basis of your certification.
Before granting certification to your operation, your certifying
agent must concur that your Organic Plan fulfills the requirements
of the regulations. Your Organic Plan must be annually updated
and approved by your certifying agent. If, at any time, you
make changes to your operation which may affect your certification,
you must notify the certifying agent to modify your Organic
Plan. If you deviate substantially from your previously approved
Organic Plan without written approval from your certifying
agent, you are no longer in compliance with the regulations
and could be subject to suspension or revocation.
Do fields have to meet any size
requirements in order to produce organic crops?
No. There are no minimum or maximum size requirements for
operations producing under the National Organic Standards.
Does organic seed always need
to be used to produce an organic crop?
For edible sprouts, yes, organic seeds are always required.
For all other organic crops, producers must use organic seeds,
unless they can document to the satisfaction of their certifying
agent that organic seed is not commercially available. The
National Organic Standards (205.204.a.1) provide that nonorganic,
untreated seeds may be used to produce an organic crop when
an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially
Section 205.204.a.2 also provides that nonorganically produced,
treated seeds may be used to produce an organic crop when
an equivalent organic or untreated variety is not commercially
available. The seed treatment, however, must be on the National
List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop
production. At the present time, no synthetic fungicides,
(such as Captan, Thiram, Apron, etc.), appear on the National
List. Therefore, fungicide treated seeds must not be used.
The only time that seed treated with a prohibited substance
may be used to produce an organic crop is when use of the
prohibited substance is a requirement of Federal or State
phytosanitary regulations. Non-organic seed may be used to
grow perennial crops, provided that the crop is grown under
organic management for at least one year before producing
products to be labeled, claimed, or otherwise represented
May I use rhizobial inoculants
for legume seeds?
Yes, rhizobial inoculants are natural, non-synthetic materials,
and are allowed. The only rhizobial inoculants which are prohibited
are those which are produced through genetic engineering.
GMO inoculants are considered “excluded methods”,
and are not allowed in organic production. Inoculants used
by organic producers must not contain any prohibited materials,
including inert ingredients. Producers must document that
any seed inoculants used or planned for use are free of prohibited
Must cover crop seeds be organic?
Yes, unless equivalent varieties are not commercially available
and the lack of commercial availability is adequately documented.
What is meant by the term “equivalent
A7: The USDA states that “an equivalent variety means
a variety exhibiting the same “type” (such as
head lettuce types, leaf lettuce types, etc.) and similar
agronomic characteristics such as insect and disease resistance
when compared to the original varietal choice.” The
determination of commercial availability is made by the certifying
agent in the course of reviewing the Organic Farm Plan, so
it is important to consult with an accredited certifying agency
to understand the agent’s policies.
If a producer attempts to source, but cannot find, organically
grown seeds which fit the needs of the production system,
are adapted to the micro climate, and/or meet established
consumer preferences in the form, quality, and quantity needed,
and the certifying agent agrees that an equivalent variety
is not commercially available, then non-organic, untreated
seed can be used.
How should I document my attempts to source organic seeds?
Contact your certifying agent for specific instructions. Be
prepared to document your attempts to obtain organic seeds
by keeping records of seed purchase orders, seed receipts,
seed labels, and records of phone conversations with seed
dealers. As a general rule of thumb, you should contact at
least 3 seed suppliers in your attempts to source organic
seeds. Lists of organic seed suppliers are maintained by the
Appropriate Technology Transfer to Rural Areas (ATTRA) http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/altseed.html
and by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) www.omri.org/OMRI_SEED_list.html
Do annual transplants have to
be organic? What about planting stock like garlic, sweet potato
slips, or potato tubers? What about strawberry plants?
The rule makes a distinction between the definition of annual
seedlings and planting stock. Planting stock includes "any
plant or plant tissue, including rhizomes, shoots, leaf or
stem cuttings, roots, or tubers, used in plant production
or propagation" and so includes items like garlic bulbs,
potato tubers, and sweet potato slips. These must be organic
unless not commercially available (see 205.204.a.1-2). Annual
seedlings, however, must be organic except only in cases of
natural disaster or for phytosanitary reasons. Perennial crops
must be from organic sources or else managed organically for
12 months prior to harvest. The National Organic Standards
Board (NOSB) has advised that when strawberry or other similar
crops are managed as annual crops, they should be considered
the same as planting stock (can be non-organic if organic
sources are not commercially available).
In the past, my certifier has
required at least 25 foot wide buffer zones where my organic
fields border conventional crops. Is that still the case?
No, the size of buffer zones is not specified in the national
standards and must be determined on a site-specific basis.
Section 202.202.c requires distinct, defined boundaries and
buffer zones, such as runoff diversions or windbreaks, to
prevent the unintended application of a prohibited substance
to land under organic management. The regulation does not
establish a minimum buffer width requirement. The size of
the buffer is determined by the organic producer and approved
by the certifying agent on a case-by-case basis, depending
on the risk of contamination by prohibited materials used
on adjoining lands. Depending on site-specific factors (such
as adjoining land use, prevailing wind direction, and type
of border vegetation), you may not need any buffer, or your
buffer may need to be greater than 25 feet in width.
Your Organic System Plan must outline steps that you will
take to avoid contamination from neighboring operations, particularly
drift of synthetic chemical pesticides. Such steps might include
notification of neighbors, posting of “Do Not Spray”
signs, planting of hedgerows, and/or maintenance of buffer
While it is important to remember that organic standards are
process-based, (rather than product-based), the regulation
does contain a maximum tolerance level for residues of prohibited
substances. If there is reason to suspect contamination, and
tests reveal that a product contains over 5 percent of the
Environmental Protection Agency’s tolerance for a particular
substance, then the product can no longer be sold as “organic”.
I know organic agriculture prohibits
the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Do the standards
set a zero tolerance for GMO contamination?
The standards prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms
(defined in the standards as “excluded methods”)
in organic operations, but they do not establish a tolerance
level or rejection threshold. The presence of a detectable
GMO residue does not necessarily constitute a violation of
the regulations. As long as an organic operation has not used
excluded methods and takes reasonable steps to avoid contact
with the products of excluded methods as detailed in their
approved Organic System Plan, the unintentional presence of
the products of excluded methods should not affect the status
of an organic product or operation.
However, if a certifying agent has reason to suspect that
an organic product has been produced using excluded methods,
the certifying agent can call for testing. If the certifying
agent determines that a product was intentionally produced
using “excluded methods”, then either the operation
or a specific field’s production could lose certification
and the products could not be sold as organic.
Many consumers of organic products expect such products to
be free of GMO contamination. To meet consumer expectations
and maintain markets for organic products, it is vital that
all organic producers and handlers do everything in their
power to avoid GMO contamination of organic products.
Must manure used to fertilize
organic crops come from animals raised in accordance with
the organic standards?
No. There are no restrictions as to the source of manure.
However, 205.203.c requires that producers “must manage
plant and animal materials to maintain or improve soil organic
matter content in a manner that does not contribute to contamination
of crops, soil, or water by plant nutrients, pathogenic organisms,
heavy metals, or residues of prohibited substances.”
Therefore, some sources of manure, such as those that contain
heavy metals, pathogens, and/or prohibited materials, may
not be appropriate for use on organic land.
If I use raw manure, how long
must I wait before I harvest my organic crop?
If you grow crops for human consumption and use raw animal
manure, the manure must be incorporated into the soil at least
120 days prior to harvest, if the edible portion of the crop
contacts the soil or soil particles. If the edible portion
of the crop does not contact soil or soil particles. (205.203.c.1.i-iii),
manure must be incorporated not less than 90 days prior to
I am applying for organic certification
of my farm. However, I used a substance during the 2002 growing
season that had been on the OMRI list of approved Brand Name
products prior to April 2002, but was removed from the OMRI
list and is not allowed now under the National Organic Standards.
Can I still be certified, assuming I currently meet all the
requirements of the National Organic Standards?
Yes. The USDA has stated that “since the substance had
previously been accepted as part of good organic farming practices
and you used it in good faith, the status of your land and
your eligibility for certification is not affected.”
Please note that the OMRI Brand Name List is regularly updated
and that many products that were not at first compliant with
the National Organic Program standards have been reformulated
and are now back on the list, available at www.omri.org.
Check with you certifying agent for their policy on approved
Brand Name products.
about livestock production
Am I allowed to vaccinate livestock
against diseases and still qualify as certified organic?
Yes, the National Organic Standards, in 205.238.a.6, allow
the use of vaccines for the production of certified organic
livestock. Records should be maintained of exactly what vaccines
are administered to which animals. Vaccines must not be from
genetically engineered sources unless these are specifically
added to the National List. (none have been yet).
I have heard that using pressure
treated lumber and buying non-certified organic wood chips
or sawdust for bedding could disqualify you. Is this true?
205.206.f prohibits lumber treated with arsenate or other
prohibited materials from having contact with soil or livestock.
Lumber which comes in direct contact with livestock, such
as hog farrowing crates or poultry nest boxes, must not contain
arsenate or other prohibited materials. Sawdust or wood chips
used for livestock bedding must not contain treated lumber.
The wood chips or sawdust do not have to be organic, however.
205.239.a.3 requires that livestock be provided appropriate
clean, dry bedding. If the bedding is typically consumed by
the animal species, then the bedding must be organically grown.
Since sawdust is not typically consumed by livestock, it does
not have to come from organically grown trees.
Can I use homeopathic treatments
to treat my livestock?
The National Organic Standards do not prohibit use of homeopathic
treatments in the production of organic livestock. All natural
(nonsynthetic) materials are permitted in livestock production,
provided they do not appear on the National List at 205.604
as prohibited natural (nonsynthetic) substances. The producer
must make certain that such treatments do not contain prohibited
Can I remove organic calves
from my farm, raise them conventionally for a year, bring
them back to the farm, and then manage them organically for
one year prior to the production of organic milk and milk
No. Livestock or edible livestock products that are removed
from an organic operation and subsequently managed on a nonorganic
operation may not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically
Can I sell an organic dairy
animal as slaughter stock?
It depends. Dairy animals that have been under continuous
organic management since the last third of gestation may be
sold, labeled, or represented as organic slaughter stock.
Conversely, dairy animals that have not been under continuous
organic management since the last third of gestation may not
be sold, labeled, or represented as organic slaughter stock.
(205.236.b.2) While the parasiticide Ivermectin is allowed
for dairy stock 90 days prior to the production of organic
milk (205.238.b.2), it is prohibited for use in slaughter
stock. Therefore, if a dairy animal received Ivermectin, it
could never be sold as organic slaughter stock.
Does a feed mill producing organic
feed need to be certified?
Yes. Section 205.237.a requires that feed handling operations,
including feed mills, must be certified.
A processing facility contracts
with two farms for their production. Is it possible to certify
those two farms under the name of the processing facility
if they are contracted to produce organic products only for
Yes, provided the certifying agent is accredited to certify
both farms and processors and has operating procedures in
place to handle this type of certification. Production operations
(farms) that are contracted to supply organic products only
to a specific processing/handling facility can be certified
as part of that unit. They must be included in the certified
operation’s Organic System Plan and be inspected by
an accredited certifying agent. It is also possible to have
processing facilities certified as “co-packers”,
and be covered under another operation’s Organic System
At our dairy farm, we operate
a small on-farm processing plant, manufacturing cheese and
yogurt. Do we have to be certified as a handling operation?
Yes, both your farm operation and your processing operation
need to be certified. Contact a certifying agent to request
appropriate Organic Farm Plan, Livestock Plan, and Handling
Plan forms. It may be possible to inspect the farm and handling
operations during the same site visit.
Who should approve my
labels before I go to print?
Your certifying agent will review your labels for compliance
with NOP labeling requirements. Labels normally approved by
a Federal agency such as FDA, FSIS, or BATF must also be approved
by those regulatory agencies.
Can I make label claims in addition
to "organic" on my product?
NOP regulations do not prohibit a producer or handler from
making additional claims regarding their product as long as
they are truthful and not misleading to the consumer.
Do I have to include the certifier's
address on the information panel of my product's package or
No. You must identify the certifier's name on the information
panel. According to the NOS, (205.303.b.2, 304.b.2, and 306.b.1)
the certifier’s name must be “preceded by the
statement ‘Certified organic by * * * or similar phrase.”
The name of the certifying agent must be spelled out, unless
the acronym of the certifier is a registered trademark. All
other information related to your certifying agent is optional.
National List of
Allowed and Prohibited Substances
Does the “National List”
show all inputs that can be used in organic production and
No. The National List shows the synthetic substances that
are allowed in organic crop and livestock production, and
the natural, non-synthetic substances which are prohibited.
All other natural, non-synthetic substances may be used in
crop and livestock production without appearing on the National
List. The National List also shows the synthetic and non-synthetic
substances which are allowed in or on processed foods.
Will there be a USDA generic
list of allowed natural substances?
The USDA has stated that they do not intend to publish a generic
list of allowed natural materials and that all naturals are
allowed unless prohibited on the National List. For a generic
list of allowed materials, please contact your certifying
agent or the Organic Materials Review Institute.