Comments due to USDA August 27, 2007
How to comment
The Facts about Non-organic Agricultural Ingredients (7 CFR 205.606)
June 28, 2007
On Friday, June 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the publication of an interim final rule to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The National Organic Standards Board recommended the addition of 38 minor agricultural ingredients at its meeting in March 2007, and the National Organic Program published those recommendations in the Federal Register in May, 2007. Effective on June 21, the interim final rule provides for a 60-day public comment period for additional comments on the amendments. The notice was published in the Federal Register on June 27 and is available at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/a070627c.html. USDA's press release on the interim final rule is posted at http://www.ams.usda.gov/news/133-07.htm.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) had urged the Secretary to move as promptly as possible on this matter, and is pleased that USDA has issued an interim final rule. This action by USDA will enable organic farmers and processors to conduct their business, using - only when not commercially available as organic - this limited number of minor non-organic agricultural ingredients that have undergone an extensive and transparent public review process.
In the coming weeks, OTA will file its comment about the interim final rule, and will urge members of the Organic Trade Association to also file comments.
Until June 9, any agricultural ingredients could be used in less than 5% of the ingredients in products labeled as "Organic" (at least 95% percent of the ingredients in the products in this category must be organic ingredients. In addition, the ingredients in the 5 % allowance are subject to restrictions such as requiring they be produced without genetic modification, sewage sludge or irradiation.). Due to a court order, USDA had announced that as of June 9, 2007 only non-organic agricultural ingredients that appear on the National List could be used if organic versions were not commercially available. Those ingredients must go through a public transparent process and Federal Register notice.
USDA published a proposed rule in May, proposing these 38 agricultural ingredients be listed for possible use if processors and certifiers could not identify organic ingredients in sufficient quantity, quality and form. Unfortunately, due to the late publishing of the final rule, a 7 day comment period was deemed essential because USDA was already delayed in having the rulemaking finished to meet the court imposed deadline of June 9, 2007. Without the new Interim Final Rule being published, many of the organic products consumers have grown to expect could have disappeared from the marketplace.
"These are 38 agricultural ingredients that the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has recommended as acceptable if the certifier determines that they are not be available in sufficient quantity, quality or form as organic ingredients. These ingredients have gone through intensive public scrutiny and review, followed a strict petition process per the regulations, and have been recommended by the NOSB to be added to the National List," said Caren Wilcox, OTA's Executive Director.
Only five items currently are on the National List and listed as appropriate for use as part of the up to 5% of permitted non-organic agricultural ingredients. They are cornstarch, water-extracted gums, kelp, unbleached lecithin, and pectin. The 38 ingredients covered by the interim final rule for inclusion on the list include 19 food colorings from foods such as beets, two starches, casings for sausages, hops, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, gelatin, celery powder, dill weed oil, frozen lemongrass, and fructooligosaccharides (a sweetener and bulking agent).
No synthetic substances are proposed for inclusion in organic products under the interim final rule.
After the comment period for the Interim Final Rule is complete and a final rule takes effect, only those agricultural products published in the Federal Register may be used and only after approval by a USDA accredited certifying agent that has double checked that the item is still not commercially available as organic. Due to this notice and rulemaking, the number of agricultural ingredients not available as organic and allowed to be used in organic products will shrink dramatically.
"Since passage of the national organic regulations, many more organic minor ingredients are being grown or have been formulated, but some are still not consistently available organically in appropriate form, quality or quantity," said Wilcox. "OTA is committed to continue to publicize the opportunities we see for entrepreneurial farmers and manufacturers to create these products."
Questions and Answers
About the 7CFR 205.606 Interim Final Rule from the National Organic Program, Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
June 27, 2007
How can consumers know the organic content of food and beverages they purchase?
National organic standards provide for a number of different labeling categories for organic products. One category is “100 percent organic,” allowed only for products that have been exclusively produced using organic methods. A second category, “Organic,” signifies that at least 95 percent of the ingredients (by weight, excluding water and salt) in a processed product have been organically produced. The remaining content can only be ingredients recommended by the National Organic Standards Board and allowed on the National List.
Why are any non-organic agricultural ingredients allowed in organic food products?
The national organic standards became effective in late October 2002 and since that time, more and more ingredients have become available in their certified organic form. However, in the five years since the rule was implemented, a few minor ingredients essential for particular products are still not yet available in sufficient quantity, quality or form.
Does this mean any non-organic agricultural ingredient can be used in an organic product?
No, there are strict regulatory requirements for determining whether a non-organic agricultural ingredient may be used. First, there is a process for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to review and recommend ingredients. Then, organic certifiers must determine if that particular ingredient is unavailable in the organic form, quality and quantity. Only if a non-organic agricultural ingredient is on the National List and is unavailable as organic can it be used as a minor ingredient in the 5 percent portion of a product labeled “Organic.”
Won’t this new rule prevent the production of organic ingredients?
No, in fact the evidence shows the opposite effect. Allowing non-organic “minor ingredients” was what drove the boom in organic spices in the 1990s—companies would try out new organic products, and if they succeeded, organic farmers rushed to produce those items that were required to be used if they were available. Cinnamon is the usual example of an ingredient that was at one point unobtainable as organic, but thanks to the commercial availability clause, is now a thriving organic spice.
What new ingredients would be used in organic products as a result of this Interim Final Rule?
None. The 38 agricultural ingredients in the Interim Final Rule were already in use in organic products that are at least 95% organic. This is actually fewer non-organic agricultural ingredients than were in use before June 9, 2007.
What are these agricultural ingredients?
The 38 ingredients covered by the interim final rule for inclusion on the list include 19 food colorings, two starches, casings for sausages, hops, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, gelatin, celery powder, dill weed oil, frozen lemongrass, and fructooligosaccharides (a sweetener that also acts as a bulking agent).
How many agricultural ingredients are listed now as acceptable for up to 5% in a 95% or more organic product?
Only five non-organic agricultural items are currently on the National List and allowed in up to 5% of products labeled as “Organic”. They are cornstarch, water-extracted gums, kelp, unbleached lecithin, and pectin.
Are these ingredients “synthetics”?
No, all of the proposed ingredients are from agricultural sources.
What process was used to review and propose these 38 ingredients?
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is a citizen advisory body made up of experts from every aspect of the organic spectrum, including consumers. After USDA agreed that the ingredients allowed for up to 5 % of an organic product should be significantly tightened up, processors and ingredient suppliers who were concerned that organic versions of a small number of minor agricultural products might be short supply because of form, quality or quantity filed petitions for consideration for these ingredients. Then the NOSB reviewed the petitions, listed the petitions on its public web site as part of the agenda for its upcoming meeting, and held a public meeting at which each petition was publicly discussed. During those public meetings, NOSB recommended only 38 non-organic agricultural ingredients for use. Next, USDA took the NOSB recommended list and issued a proposed rule listing these 38 ingredients in the Federal Register for public comment. The NOSB did not recommend all the ingredients that were petitioned.
In fact, according to USDA, the National Organic Program (NOP) and NOSB received approximately 99 petitions to add more than 600 non-organic agricultural ingredients and substances to Section 205.606. After program review, 79 petitions to add 52 substances were forwarded through the petition review process to NOSB’s Materials and Handling Committees for review and evaluation against the Organic Food Production Act criteria and NOP regulations. Prior to the public NOSB meetings, 52 draft recommendations from the NOSB committees were posted on NOP’s web site for review and public comment. Of the 52 petition ingredients, NOSB, for its March 2007 meeting, requested, received and reviewed public comments on the petitioned ingredients, and voted to add 38 to Section 205.606 of the National List.
Are the National Organic Standards considered food safety standards?
No, the Food and Drug Administration and USDA are charged by Congress to enforce food safety laws.
How do I know these non-organic agricultural ingredients are safe and of high quality?
Even the ingredients in the 5 percent allowance of “Organic” products are subject to restrictions in how they were grown. Like all other ingredients, they also must meet local, state and federal food safety requirements. Consumers have come to recognize that organic businesses have high standards for all their ingredients.