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    7. Allowed and Prohibited Substances


General questions

I live in Washington state. Would like to know how to become a Certified Organic Grower without breaking the bank account. Thanks. --Linda Dyjak
Step 1: 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 production”?
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 systems.


Questions about certification

As a crop, livestock, or handling operation, am I restricted to use chlorine at the maximum residual disinfectant limit specified under the Safe Drinking Water Act, currently 4 mg/L, at the beginning of the wash/rinse water cycle?
The National Organic Program has interpreted the regulation as requiring that chlorine levels must be documented as 4ppm or less at the point of discharge from the facility into the environment.

On May 14, 2003, the NOSB recommended that “levels of chlorine used to prepare water to disinfect/sanitize tools, equipment, or food contact surfaces may be higher than 4 mg/L and should be at levels sufficient to control microbial contaminants. If water containing higher levels of chlorine comes in direct contact with organic crops or food products, there must be a final, thorough rinse with potable water.”

Crop use of chlorine is generally limited to cleaning irrigation systems, sterilizing equipment such as pruning shears, and disinfecting seed, particularly sprouts. The intent of the NOSB’s original November, 1995, recommendation was that water in direct contact with crops or food should not have a higher chlorine content than that found in municipal water supplies - the “maximum residual disinfectant level” as regulated by EPA. NOSB reaffirmed this position with the guidance that higher levels of chlorine be could be used followed by a rinse with potable water.

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 crops?
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 this scenario:

  • 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” or
“organically grown”?

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 request.


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 certifying agents?

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 organic” seal?
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 is needed?
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 member.


Questions about crop production

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:

  1. Allow plenty of time in your schedule for the inspection.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 materials.


I sell $4,000 to $9,000 of vegetables each year at a couple of farmers markets and at our roadside stand. Can I label my production as organic each year until I reach the $5000 limit and then take my organic sign down for anything I sell over the $5000 limit?
The National Organic Standards section 205.101.a.1 states, “A production or handling operation that sells agricultural products as "organic" but whose gross agricultural income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less annually is exempt from certification under subpart E of this part and from submitting an organic system plan for acceptance or approval under § 205.201 but must comply with the applicable organic production and handling requirements of subpart C of this part and the labeling requirements of § 205.310. The products from such operations shall not be used as ingredients identified as organic in processed products produced by another handling operation.”

In other words, you don’t have to be certified if you sell $5,000 or less per year of organic products. Once you have surpassed the $5,000 sales mark, you need to remove all signage, advertising, labels, and other market information that refers to your products as “organic”. If you continue to make any claims that your products are organic, then your farm needs to be certified.
Please be advised that taking down “organic” signage during the middle of the season may confuse consumers, and, while technically allowed under the NOS, it is unfair to those farmers who pay for certification and have to compete with ones who do not.

I 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 a product.

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 be organic?
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 organic sale
“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 standards.”

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.


I am 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 needed.

What 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 available.

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 as organic.

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 materials.

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 variety”?
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 zones.

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 harvest

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.


Questions 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:

  1. Isolate incoming animals in a separate pen (labeled "Organic Animals")
  2. Slaughter organic animals first to ensure that equipment is free of remnants from processing conventional animals
  3. Identify carcasses as "Organic"
  4. 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:

  1. 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;
  2. Access to pasture for ruminants;
  3. Appropriate clean, dry bedding. If the bedding is typically consumed by the animal species, it must be organic; and
  4. Shelter designed to allow for:
    • Natural maintenance, comfort behaviors and opportunity to exercise;
    • 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 www.attra.ncat.org, 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 substances.


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 products?
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 produced. (205.236.b.1)

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.


Questions about handling

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 List.

If a 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 organic ingredient.

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 products.

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 that facility?
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 Plan.

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.


Questions about labeling

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 shipping case?
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 Substances

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:

6518(m) Evaluation.
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 farming systems;

(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 and livestock;

(6) the alternatives to using the substance in terms of practices or other available materials; and

(7) its compatibility with a system of sustainable agriculture.

6517(c)(2) Prohibition on the use of Specific Natural Substances.
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 such substances
(i) would be harmful to human health or the environment; and
(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 Stucznski
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 handling?
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.


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