Read the latest
from Inspector's Notebook:
22, 2005: Taking the fear out of farm maps
With the early bird deadline—it’s March 1—rapidly
approaching it is time to finish up this year’s Organic
Farm Plan and that means completing those dreaded field
10, 2005: Planning the perfect rotation: Three part series
on creating crop rotations Part 3: Nine simple
steps to your own rather complicated looking, field specific
map of future planting
27, 2005: Planning the perfect rotation: Three part series
on creating crop rotations Part 2: A good transition
provides the ground work for fields that are nutrient stable,
disease free and haven’t washed into the local river.
These ten easy rules will give you a head start then keep
you running ahead of the pests.
7, 2005: Planning the perfect rotation: Three part series
on creating crop rotations Part 1: NOP requirements
and the ten things you must consider before buying
the season's first bag of seeds.
9, 2004: Wash & Glow: The inspector's guide to post-harvest
Showcasing quality and guarding against contamination rank
among the top priorities at this stage of certification.
19, 2004: Get paid for getting certified Cost-share
programs offset certification expenses up to $500 but act
quickly deadlines loom near
9, 2004: Complying with noncompliances Take
time now to understand and correct outstanding issues on
your certification contract
14, 2004: The exit interview made easy Jim
shares his tips for getting the inspector off your property
as quickly as possible.
28, 2004; Because there's a lot riding on your numbers
Keep your lot numbers simple and consistent to have one
less worry come harvest time.
17, 2004: Protecting the integrity of organic grains during
harvest Develop strict cleaning protocol for
harvesting and handling equipment.
3, 2004: Expecting the inspector? 9 tips to
shorten your inspection time
Go directly to the latest
Or browse all the questions and answers
- Crop Production
- Livestock Production
- Allowed and Prohibited
in Washington state. Would like to know how to become a Certified
Organic Grower without breaking the bank account. Thanks.
Make sure you have good markets for what you’re growing.
Step 2: Check out this program: As part
of the 2002 Farm Bill, Congress created a National Organic
Certification Cost Share Program which reimburses organic
producers and handlers 75% of their inspection and certification
fees, up to $500/year. Washington State has signed a cooperative
agreement with the USDA where the state will receive $350,000.00
to reimburse qualified operations for costs incurred for certification
to the National Organic Program. Please contact Miles McEvoy,
Washington State Department of Agriculture, at 360-902-1924
to obtain program information and application forms.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Are individual certifiers allowed
by the NOP to set maximum tolerances for unintentional GMO
contamination? Do any certifiers require GMO testing of harvested
NOP doesn't give certification agents the
ability to establish additional or higher standards, such
as "tolerance levels" for unintentional GMO contamination.
(The NOP uses the term “excluded methods” to refer
to GMOs.) The NOP doesn't consider the presence of GMOs in
organic product as immediate cause for denial or suspension
of certification. The following language from the preamble
(pg. 80556) under the topic heading "Genetic drift"
clarifies the NOP's perspective on this issue:
"When we are considering drift issues, it is particularly
important to remember that organic standards are process based.
Certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations
to follow a set of production standards and practices that
meet the requirements of the Act and the regulation. This
regulation prohibits the use of excluded methods in organic
operations. The presence of a detectable residue of a product
of excluded methods alone does not necessarily constitute
a violation of this regulation. 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."
Although they cannot require testing for GMO residues in
the absence of suspected use of "excluded methods"
by the operation, certifiers routinely assess efforts made
by operators to avoid/minimize unintentional GMO contamination
via pollen drift or other potential sources of contamination,
since GMOs are seen as “prohibited substances”,
the use of which is not allowed.
In the U.S., for the time being, GMO-residue tolerance levels
will continue to be determined in the marketplace by the buyers
of organic products, not by specific tolerance levels set
in standards. If farmers, consumers, and certifiers wish to
build GMO-residue tolerance levels into the federal organic
standards, then a coordinated effort/campaign would need to
come from the organic community (OTA, NOSB, National Campaign
for Sustainable Ag, etc.) to create a recommendation to the
NOP for adoption of a new standard.
I am planning to purchase an
existing organic farm. I have never been certified, but the
farm I am purchasing has been certified for 5 years. Can the
farm’s certification be passed on to me?
Even though the farm you are purchasing is
currently certified, you need to complete an Organic System
Plan and be certified by an accredited certification agency
in order to sell organic products. (If you sell less than
$5,000 of organic products annually, you need not be certified,
but you must comply with NOP organic production standards
in order to market your products as organic). To expedite
the process, if you have permission, you can draw on the previous
owner’s organic plan for ideas, and possibly use their
maps and field history sheets. (Make sure that all information
is still accurate.) You might also be able to work with the
seller and the certifying agent for the seller’s certification
to remain in effect while your paperwork is being processed.
On the other hand, if the farm is incorporated, and you become
part of the corporation, then all licenses and/or certifications
would remain in force. The operation would need to be re-inspected
and the certification and Organic System Plan updated, but
a new certificate would not need to be issued. At any rate,
you will need to be inspected and approved before the operation
is certified in your name. Check with your certifier for the
exact procedures to follow. Since the farm is currently certified,
the process should be relatively seamless.
The farm I plan to purchase
has 5,000 bushels of certified organic soybeans in a grain
bin on the farm. Can I purchase the soybeans with the farm,
and still sell them as certified organic?
Good question. Buying, storing, and re-selling
the soybeans would make you a “handling operation”.
Here’s why. The NOP defines handling operation as “any
operation or portion of an operation (except final retailers
of agricultural products that do not process agricultural
products) that receives or otherwise acquires agricultural
products and processes, packages, or stores such products.”
If you buy the bin full of soybeans, you would be “acquiring”
and “storing” organic products. In addition, the
NOP defines handle as “to sell, process, or package
agricultural products, except such term shall not include
the sale, transportation, or delivery of crops or livestock
by the producer thereof to a handler.”
Since you were not the producer of the soybeans, and you
would take physical possession and store the crop, you would
be acting as a handling operation in this instance. As such,
you should conclude your own certification prior to selling
the soybeans. That way, certification can be passed on, and
new certificates or transaction certificates issued, without
any problems. Make sure to keep a copy of the grower’s
organic certificate, along with an invoice or receipt for
your purchase of the soybeans. It would also be good to get
a copy of the grower’s bin register or storage record
for your file. Start your own bin register for the grain bin,
and include the purchased soybeans as starting inventory.
Make sure to assign a lot number when you sell the soybeans,
and use bills of lading and clean transport affidavits when
the soybeans are sold. Keep copies of your sales invoices
and scale tickets.
How do I get my honey certified
organic? It's from Mexico.
Though there are no specific apiculture standards
in the national organic regulation, the USDA’s National
Organic Program issued a policy statement on May 2, 2002,
indicating that honey and other agricultural products can
be certified organic. Some accredited certification agencies
offer apiculture certification. If the honey is to be sold
as “organic” in the United States, it needs to
have been certified by a USDA-accredited certification agency.
You will find a list of accredited certifiers at www.ams.usda.gov/nop/CertifyingAgents/Accredited.html.
For additional guidance, you should read the National Organic
Standards Board’s Apiculture Task Force Report from
September 15, 2001, which can be viewed at www.ams.usda.gov/nosb/lscommRMR/reports/apiculture.html
USDA 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 cost.
- 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 the USDA.
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.
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
I am requesting organic certification
of my 400 acre farm. I grow corn, soybeans, and hay in the
rotation. I am very apprehensive about the inspection. What
should I expect?
It is the inspector's job to gather information
and verify the accuracy of your Organic Farm Plan and assess
your operation’s compliance with the standards. The
inspector verifies the organic crops you are growing, and
assesses the risk of contamination through observations of
field borders, buildings, and equipment used in your organic
operation. You accompany the inspector to answer questions
and provide information about your farming systems. The inspector
may take pictures. Soil, tissue or product samples are taken
if the inspector suspects contamination or use of prohibited
materials, or is asked to do so by the certifying agent.
About half the inspection time is spent reviewing your records,
examining seed and input (fertilizers and pest control products)
labels, answering questions about the Farm Plan and the operation,
and completing an inspection affidavit and exit interview
record. You receive a copy of the inspection affidavit you
sign. At the end of the inspection, the inspector conducts
an Exit Interview to review issues of concern which have been
noted during the inspection.
Tips to help you have a pleasant inspection experience:
- Allow plenty of time in your schedule
for the inspection.
- During the tour, point out to the inspector potential
issues you have already identified or areas of
interest, such as roadside spraying, buffers you already
maintain, wildlife areas, erosion control measures, etc.
- Organize your records. Make sure that
planting, cultivation, harvest, storage and sales records;
seed and input labels; receipts; non-GMO seed verification
letters; letters to local government units or electric companies
regarding roadside spraying; letters to and from your neighbors;
and other pertinent records are easy to find.
- Have accurate acreage totals of organic
and non-organic crops ready, especially if crop plans have
changed since your Organic Farm Plan was filled out.
- Have a total of your crop sales from the previous
year prepared for individual crops, with sales
records or weight tickets available.
Use the inspector as a source of information to understand
compliance to the USDA National Organic Program. Good luck
and have fun!
I am a certified organic farmer.
Why do I need to keep a complaint log for organic certification?
I have never had any complaints!
The complaint log is a requirement for all clients of certifying
agents that are accredited under the USDA’s International
Organization for Standardization Guide 65 (ISO 65) program.
It is not a requirement under the National Organic Program
rules. ISO 65 is an international standard for certification
bodies. Compliance with ISO 65 is a requirement for access
to European and other world markets.
My certifying agent instructed
me to keep "monitoring records" for water quality.
I irrigate some fields using river water. What kinds of records
should I be keeping?
Monitoring records might include dates and/or
times of irrigation, records of water usage, salinity tests,
residue analyses if specific contaminants are known or suspected,
soil moisture tests, and dates when water filters were changed.
Section 205.200 of the rule states, “Production practices
… must maintain or improve the natural resources of
the operation, including soil and water quality.” Your
Organic Farm Plan should outline your strategies to maintain
or improve water quality, including your practices to conserve
water, minimize salinization, and prevent water contamination.
Your irrigation water should not be a source of prohibited
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
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 produce organic sunflower
sprouts. They are grown in a soil mix in trays in a greenhouse.
The "sprouts" are cut from the soil and not sold
with the seed still intact. I know that the NOP regulation
requires organic seeds for the production of “edible
sprouts”. Do I have to use organic sunflower seeds to
produce sunflower sprouts, since they are grown in soil and
the sprouts are cut from the seed?
Organic seeds are required for all organic growers, if the
seeds are commercially available in organic form. Organic
sunflower seeds are commercially available, so you need to
use organic sunflower seeds to produce your organic sprouts,
regardless of whether the sprouts are grown in a soil mix
or if they are cut from the seed. In addition, according to
section 205.204.a.1, organic seeds MUST be used to produce
“edible sprouts”. There is no distinction made
for the growing method or medium for the sprouts. If the product
is edible sprouts, the seeds must be organic. This is consistent
with FDA policies, which do not distinguish between growing
methods for the production of “sprouts”. As always,
check with your certifier.
I am planning on getting two
fields certified organic next year. One of the fields borders
a subdivision. I know that I need a buffer zone for fields
that border conventional crop production. Do I need a buffer
zone where my field borders suburban lots?
NOP section 205.202.c requires that “any field or farm
parcel from which harvested crops are intended to be sold,
labeled, or represented as "organic," must have
distinct, defined boundaries and buffer zones such as runoff
diversions to prevent the unintended application of a prohibited
substance to the crop or contact with a prohibited substance
applied to adjoining land that is not under organic management.”
If suburban landowners are applying prohibited materials
to land which adjoins your organic field, then you would need
to maintain a buffer zone to prevent the prohibited materials
from contacting your organic crop. On the other hand, if the
landowners all agree not to apply prohibited materials near
your field, you might not need a buffer zone. (Your certification
agency would need to accept such an arrangement.) You would
need to get the landowners to agree annually in writing, (on
forms commonly called “adjoining land use affidavits”),
and you should maintain copies of the affidavits in your file.
Can an organic farmer use insect
traps such as “sticky” and pheromone traps?
Yes, such traps are permitted. However, pheromone formulations
may contain inert ingredients that are not allowed for use
in organic production systems, so it is necessary to consider
the acceptability of specific products. To determine whether
specific products are allowed you must verify the regulatory
status of the products with your certifier. When in doubt
always check with your certifier about the status of a material
before purchasing the product, or at least before applying
it to your land or crop.
Do fish meal, blood meal, and
bone meal have to be organic to be used as soil amendments?
No, they do not have to be organic. However,
to be used in organic production, such products must not contain
synthetic fertilizers, preservatives, or other prohibited
materials in their ingredient lists. Once again, when in doubt,
check with your certifier before purchasing or applying such
If the manure used in an organic system comes from animals
that have been treated with chemicals would the system still
be considered organic?
There is no requirement that manure has to be from an organic
animal to be used as a fertilizer on an organic farm. The
manure can come from a conventional herd but you need to keep
in mind that the fertility management system cannot contaminate
crops, soil, or water with heavy metals, pathogens, excess
nutrients, or prohibited materials. If the manure source is
contaminated with heavy metals, pathogens, or pesticides,
it may not be appropriate to use. So you need to keep records
on the source of the manure and information about the management
practices used where the manure was generated.
Chicken manure is an example of a manure source which may
be contaminated with heavy metals. Some growers farm on soils
that may have elevated levels of arsenic as a result of past
management practices. Certain chicken farms add arsenic in
the feed as a growth stimulant. Since arsenic doesn’t
break down (because it is an element), it can be transported
directly to your farm in the manure. In situations like the
one presented in this example, it would be very important
for you to be aware which manure contains arsenic, and to
avoid buying or using it.
May compost teas be used for
organic production currently, and are they going to be prohibited
in the future?
If the compost used for compost tea is produced
according to the National Organic Standards, then compost
tea can be used. The regulations do not prohibit additions
of sugar and molasses, so the use of added sugars is in compliance
with the National Organic Program. However, there is a provision
in the regulations that prohibits the use of fertilizer materials
that are contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, or pathogens.
So, if an organic farming system uses compost tea, the inspector
and the certifier would check to see if the compost tea is
free of pathogens or other contaminants that could affect
the safety of the food product.
How does planting seedlings
from a non-organic nursery affect the status of certified
organic land? Would the land be taken out of organic status
or is it only the fruit from the trees that are affected?
Annual seedlings must be organic, so planting
nonorganic seedlings would mean that the crops grown from
those seedlings could not be certified organic. Nonorganic
perennial planting stock, such as fruit trees, can be used
on an organic site where organic planting stock is not commercially
available in the form, quality, quantity, or equivalent variety
needed by the operation. Planting nonorganic planting stock
does not affect the land’s certification; it is still
organic. Any non-organic perennial must be grown on that organic
site for at least a year before the harvested crop, or the
perennial plant itself, can be sold as organic.
What growing media is being
used for organic greenhouse production? How do you produce
a media that is acceptable for organic production?
The media would need to be in compliance with
the National Organic Program; so basically the media would
need to consist of natural materials. When deciding what materials
to use, check with your certifier and review the materials
list for approved generic materials. Generally, the greenhouse
media could consist of compost, topsoil, sand, peat moss,
sphagnum moss, vermiculite, perlite, etc., but synthetic wetting
agents and synthetic fertilizers are prohibited.
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 food.”
Does compost made using earthworm
castings have to meet the NOP compost temperature requirements?
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
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 says:
205.671 Exclusion from
“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
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 GMO contamination.
an organic inspector and got this question from a farmer:
“I am growing oats in my buffer strip. Can I harvest
this for oat seed and use it to plant organic oats the next
year?” What do you think? --Joyce Ford
If a buffer zone is necessary to protect
an organic crop from contamination, due to prohibited materials
applied to adjoining fields, then the crop harvested from
the buffer zone is not organic. Organic producers are required
to source organic seed for organic crops, when the seed is
commercially available in organic form. The only time that
seed grown in a buffer zone could be used to produce an organic
crop is if the producer could document that the equivalent
variety is not available in the form, quality and quantity
are the organic certification requirements for the production
of potted herbs, annuals and perennials for resale? Are any
commercially produced potting soils available for organic
production? There are no chemicals approved in my state for
the production of potted herbs so can liners be purchased
from non-certified producers for organic production of container
plants? --Barbara Steele
In order to be sold as “organic”,
potted herbs, annuals and perennials must be produced according
to the National Organic Standards. This means that all soil
mix ingredients must be natural, or else on the National List
of allowed synthetic materials. The soil mix may contain ingredients
such as soil, sand, compost, peat, vermiculite, or perlite.
The mix may not contain synthetic fertilizers or synthetic
wetting agents. The NOS does not directly address the type
of materials allowed for the pots, but you should make sure
that the pots do not contain and have not been treated with
synthetic fungicides, preservatives, or fumigants.
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
I am a certified organic beef
farmer working on organizing a meat pool to market organic
meats. I have identified several slaughter facilities and
am helping them with organic certification. What issues should
I be concerned about?
First, you should thoroughly read Sections 205.270 through
205.311 and Sections 205.605 and 205.606 of the National Organic
Program Final Rule. These sections detail processing and handling
requirements for organic certification.
In general, commingling of organic products with non-organic
products and contamination with prohibited substances are
two of the biggest issues for all processing facilities. In
order to prevent commingling, slaughter facilities will:
- Isolate incoming animals in a separate pen (labeled "Organic
- Slaughter organic animals first to ensure that equipment
is free of remnants from processing conventional animals
- Identify carcasses as "Organic"
- Keep records, tracked by ear tag numbers of incoming animals,
of all organic slaughter activities. When carcasses are
ready to be cut up or further processed, these activities
are typically done first before other meat is cut up when
equipment, knives and other tools are clean, and non-organic
meat is not present.
To avoid contamination with prohibited substances, be sure
that pest control products are used only on the outside of
the facility, but not in the vicinity of the pens holding
organic animals. Organic products, ingredients, and packaging
materials used for organic products must not come into contact
with pesticides. Develop a plan to move organic products and
packaging materials in the event that the application of pesticides
occurs in the facility. If a structural pest management plan
is not already in place, the slaughter facility needs to develop
a plan to prevent pest problems, compliant with 205.271. Records
must be kept of all pesticide applications and measures must
be taken to protect organic products from exposure.
Records are also needed to document the cleaning of equipment
prior to organic meat processing. USDA slaughter facilities
are required to have HAACP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control
Points) plans in place. Use this plan as your starting point
to develop your written "Organic Handling Plan".
Labeling organic products is also an issue. Design a label
that meets both USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service
and NOP requirements. The label needs to be pre-approved by
FSIS and your organic certifier. If you make sausage, hot
dogs, jerky, or other multi-ingredient organic products, ingredients
and processing aids need to meet NOP requirements. Available
label claims will depend on whether the products are 100%
organic, contain at least 95% organic ingredients, or contain
between 70-95% organic ingredients.
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.
I have a small dairy herd,
milking about 30 cows. It is a pasture system. I don’t
raise any row crops. Do I have to get my pastures certified
in order to sell organic milk?
Yes, your pastures must be certified. The
pastures, and how they are managed, must be described in your
Organic System Plan, which you submit to your certification
agency. You need maps showing all of the pastures. The maps
can be aerial photos, surveyor maps, plat maps, hand drawn,
or computer generated. You also need to submit a field history
showing all inputs and crops grown. For pastures, this should
be relatively simple. You also need to assess your pastures
to determine if any adjoining land uses pose contamination
risks. If there is a risk of contamination, you need to establish
buffer zones so your animals don’t graze next to land
where prohibited materials are being applied. The pastures
need to be managed to protect soil and water resources and
to provide edible forage. They also need to be inspected annually,
along with your herd and the rest of your operation.
I’m a dairy farmer. What
can I use for fly control in the barn and in the milk house?
In order to be certified organic, you must
implement preventative practices and proactive management
to control flies and other pests, both in the barn and in
the milk house. Approved strategies include: 1) augmentation
or introduction of predators or parasites of the pest species;
2) development of habitat for natural enemies of pests; and
3) non-synthetic controls such as lures, traps, and repellents.
Good manure management; pasture rotation; clean, dry bedding;
moisture control; and release of fly parasites are all part
of successful fly management systems. In addition, many dairy
farmers use walk-through fly traps to remove flies from cows
when they enter the barn or milking parlor. Many also use
sticky strips or tapes, and some use bug zappers and jar traps
baited with attractants. If an insecticide is to be used in
the barn or milk house, the material must either be derived
from natural sources or be on the National List of Allowed
and Prohibited Substances. If you have questions about any
methods or inputs, be sure and ask your certifier before use.
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).
My brother-in-law has had about
50 egg layers and is considering going organic. The question
is: without raising his own chicks, is there a source for
organic pullets? --Joe Liccese
Organic poultry must be managed organically
from the 2nd day after hatching. There are sources of organic
pullets, but most grow the pullets for operations with 1000
or more layers. It may be difficult to find 50 organic pullets.
Check with your regional certification agencies, state departments
of agriculture, Extension Agents, and sustainable farming
associations to find out if organic pullets are available
in your region.
Where can I find info regarding
housing for swine and poultry that meets organic rules &
regs? --Ray Poli
The NOS requires that producers establish
and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate
the health and natural behavior of animals, including:
- Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas,
fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its
stage of production, the climate and the environment;
- Access to pasture for ruminants;
- Appropriate clean, dry bedding. If the bedding is typically
consumed by the animal species, it must be organic; and
- Shelter designed to allow for:
• Natural maintenance, comfort behaviors and opportunity
• Temperature level, ventilation and air circulation
suitable to the species; and
• Reduction of potential for livestock injury.
You can find good information on livestock housing by visiting
or by checking out our pig
page for great profiles and information on successful
pastured hog operations, including details on housing.
In order to start organic dairy
production, do all dairy animals have to be organic from the
last third of gestation to produce organic milk or milk products?
No. The requirements are actually more stringent than that.
Milk or milk products must be from animals that have been
under continuous organic management beginning no later than
1 year prior to the production of organic milk or milk products.
The exception: In the case of the conversion of an entire
distinct herd, during the first 9 months of their 1-year conversion
period, the animals must receive a minimum of 80 percent feed
that is either 1) organic or 2) raised from land included
in the Organic System Plan and managed in compliance with
organic crop requirements. These animals must then be fed
100% organic feed for the final 3 months prior to production
of organic milk. (205.236a.2)
According to 205.238.c.1, producers must not sell, label,
or represent as “organic” any animal or edible
product derived from any animal treated with antibiotics or
other prohibited substances. There is, however, an exception
to this rule for dairy herds converted to organic management
under 205.236.a.2. In this case, an animal may have received
a prohibited treatment one year or more prior to producing
organic milk or milk products. Once the herd has been converted
to organic production, however, antibiotics or other prohibited
substances may not be administered to any animals that produce
organic meat, milk, or milk products.
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.
We operate a feed mill. We
are thinking of adding an organic laying hen ration to our
product line. We have heard that livestock feed must contain
at least 95% organic ingredients in order to be labeled “organic”.
For laying hens, the complete ration typically contains over
5% calcium and other supplements. Will we be able to produce
a balanced layer ration and label it “organic”?
This is a confusing issue. It’s true that the organic
food labeling requirements mandate at least 95% organic ingredients
in products labeled “organic”, but the organic
livestock feed labeling requirements are different. NOP section
205.301.e requires that all agricultural ingredients in livestock
feed must be organically produced and handled in compliance
with section 205.237. Non-agricultural ingredients may be
used in feeds labeled as “organic”, so long as
all of the agricultural ingredients are organically produced
and handled. There is no limit set on the amount of non-agricultural
ingredients in the product. Non-agricultural ingredients include
vitamin and mineral supplements approved for organic use.
All supplements and additives must be either natural materials,
such as calcium carbonate, or listed as allowable on the National
certified operation uses a warehouse or storage facility to
store organic products, must the warehouse be certified?
No. However, the warehouse/storage facility
must be included in the certified operation’s Organic
System Plan so that the certifying agent is aware of the storage
location and can inspect the warehouse to verify that the
facility is compliant with all applicable standards, such
as prevention of commingling and contact with prohibited substances.
I raise certified organic
beef. The animals are slaughtered at a certified organic slaughter
plant. Can a retail store buy hanging beef, then cut, grind,
and package it at their store, without being certified?
A retail operation which cuts meat is "excluded"
from the requirement for certification under 205.101.b.2.
Such an operation can receive certified organic meat, cut,
grind, and package it, and label it as “organic”
without being certified. They cannot, however, label the meat
"certified organic". They cannot use or display
the USDA seal or the certifying agent's seal. The meat cannot
be sold to another operation who would use the meat as an
Though the retail store doesn't have to be certified, the
store must prevent commingling, prevent contact with prohibited
materials, keep adequate records, and properly label organic
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.
This question is regarding
"credence goods" labeling. Do the National Organic
Program and the presence of the "USDA organic" label
affect other labeling, such as Kosher, biodynamic, or seals
of approval for "sustainability" practices by an
organization such as The Food Alliance?
No. "Companion label" claims, such as Kosher, biodynamic,
grass-fed, Food Alliance, etc., need to be truthful, but they
are beyond the scope of the NOP regulation, and are allowed.
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.
Allowed and Prohibited
I see a lot of products advertised
as “organic” fertilizers. As a certified organic
farmer, am I required to use organic fertilizers?
There is a great deal of confusion about use of the word “organic”
on fertilizers and other products. Fertilizer labeling is
currently regulated by state officials, and most use the term
as in organic chemistry – a compound that contains carbon.
Be aware that fertilizer products labeled “organic”
may contain synthetic urea, other synthetic plant nutrients,
or sewage sludge, all of which are prohibited for use in organic
production. Binding agents and pelleting materials may also
be synthetic, and not listed on the ingredients label. As
an organic farmer, you are required to use fertilizers approved
for use in organic production. These include: compost; uncomposted
plant materials; animal manures (with certain restrictions
on timing of application/harvest); wood ash; mined substances
such as limestone, potassium sulfate and gypsum; fish products;
micronutrient products; and other fertilizers on the National
List. The Organic Materials Review Institute’s brand
name list includes many products that have been reviewed against
NOP standards, and is available at www.omri.org.
Once again, when in doubt, check with your certifier before
purchasing or applying a material.
Is 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 shall consider
(1) the potential of such substances for detrimental
chemical interactions with other materials used in organic
(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 substance;
(4) the effect of the substance on human health;
(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
(6) the alternatives to using the substance in terms
of practices or other available materials; and
(7) its compatibility with a system of sustainable
6517(c)(2) Prohibition on the use of Specific
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
(i) would be harmful to human health or the environment;
(ii) is inconsistent with organic farming or handling, and
the purposes of this chapter;
What is the current status
with the Japanese Ag Service prohibition of calcium lignin
sulfonate? I applied an OMRI approved fertilizer w/ potassium
sulfate and granular rock phosphate to my soybeans planted
in May '02. I first heard about the lignin sulfonate issue
in the May/June issue of the Organic Broadcaster. As I understand,
there are few soil correctives that don't contain the material
in pelletizing process. How did this come about? Was this
a demand made by the JAS? Are there acceptable alternatives
for the industry to use instead of lignin sulfonate? --Robert
The agreement with Japan stipulates that organic products
must be grown without the use of lignin sulfonate, alkali
extracted humic acid, or potassium bicarbonate, in order for
those products to be exported to Japan. Check with your certifier
before you purchase and apply a material. This is especially
true, if you intend to purchase pellitized fertilizers, and
you intend to produce crops likely to be exported to Japan.
Can wood treated with arsenate
or other prohibed substances be used for fence posts, trellis
systems, etc., in organic production?
A producer must not use lumber treated with arsenate or other
prohibited materials for new installations or replacement
purposes in contact with soil or livestock. (205.206.f) The
prohibition applies to lumber used in direct contact with
organically produced and handled crops and livestock. This
includes fence posts if the posts are in direct contact with
organic livestock or certified land. The ruling also prohibits
treated lumber used in organic crop production, such as the
frames of a planting bed, tomato stakes, grape trellis, and
lumber used for raising livestock, such as the boards used
to build a farrowing house or chicken roost. The prohibition
does not include other uses, such as lumber for fence posts
or building materials, if the treated lumber is isolated from
organic animals or certified land. Before using any treated
lumber, check with your certifying agent.
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.