USDA Releases National Organic Standards for Public Review - Organic Trade Association
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USDA Releases National Organic Standards for Public Review


Greenfield, MA (December 15, 1997) - Katherine DiMatteo, Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association (OTA), announced today the association's preliminary assessment of the USDA's proposed national organic standards. "We've been very supportive and involved in the development of federal organic regulations that meet our industry's high standards for organic," said DiMatteo. "However, we are very disappointed that the Preamble to the Standards contains questions relating to the potential inclusion of genetically modified organisms, food irradiation, the use of antibiotics in livestock and dairy production and the use of sewage sludge. These practices have never been a part of organic agriculture and we will fight to keep them out of the final regulations."

The OTA will go into greater detail about these issues during a press conference to be held immediately following the USDA's press conference at approximately 11:30 a.m. (EST) on Monday, December 15, 1997 at the J.W. Marriott hotel in Washington, DC. In addition the OTA will co-sponsor two forums in January in order to promote organic industry and public commentary.

Over the next few months the OTA's nine-committee Quality Assurance Council (QAC) will carefully review the national organic standards, and then the OTA will make specific recommendations to the USDA. "The OTA is dedicated to helping ensure that consumers can trust the organic label, said Joe Smillie, co-chair of the QAC. "We will examine the regulations carefully to determine if any discrepancies exist between the published rules and the vision and values of our members. We will work to guarantee that the national organic regulations are in compliance with the strict organic certification guidelines that our industry already has in place."

Next Steps

"No matter how complex the regulations may seem, we must not forget this simple rule: Organic agriculture means bringing farming back harmony with nature," said DiMatteo."In the next few months, the OTA will closely scrutinize the regulations to protect the integrity of the national definition for organic," said DiMatteo.

Benefits to Consumers

Once the national standards are in effect, all agricultural products labeled "organic" will have to be in compliance with the U.S. organic law. Product labels will indicate that products have been processed in accordance with the law and that a USDA-approved certifier has verified that the product meets or exceeds the defined standards of organic. "When consumers see the word 'organic,' they will know that the product has been grown and processed with the same standards and regulations throughout the country," said Mark Retzloff, President of the OTA Board of Directors.

History of The National Organic Standards

The federal government, as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The purpose of the Act is to establish national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled "organic," and therefore, guarantee a consistent standard for organic from state to state. Currently, 17 states and 33 private certification organizations verify the integrity of organic products. The release of the USDA's proposed national organic program is the next step in the evolution of organic standards.

The passage of the OFPA created the National Organic Program (NOP) within the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA. The NOP will implement the organic standards once the final rules are signed by Secretary of Agricuture Dan Glickman. The NOP's role is to approve state agencies and private organizations that will certify organic producers and handlers, and to oversee the enforcement of the organic standards.

The Act authorized the formation of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to advise the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards for the National Organic Program. The NOSB based their recommendations on industry consensus. They asked for and received an unprecedented amount of public input from farmers, businesses and consumers during every step of their three year decision-making process. The NOSB consists of four farmers, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, three consumer/public interest advocates and three environmentalists.

Rule to be Published For Public Comment

The approved standards are scheduled to be published this week by the USDA in the Federal Register for a public review process of at least 90 days. After the public comment period, the USDA may use the public comments to further revise the standards if public comments indicate further revision is needed. When the revisions are completed, the USDA will then implement the National Organic Program using the USDA organic standards. The complete federal document can be viewed on the Internet at or can be ordered by mail by calling the Organic Trade Association at 413-774-5484.

Until the standards are implemented, the OTA recommends that shoppers look for certified organic products to ensure organic authenticity.

The USDA will provide an overview of the standards in several public meetings in the weeks to come, and the OTA will update its members and the media as the industry responds to the proposed regulations. For more information, please contact the Organic Trade Association at 413-774-5484, or visit the association's Web site at

The Organic Trade Association is the business association representing the organic industry in the United States and Canada. Its over 600 members include growers, processors, shippers, retailers, certification organizations and others involved in the business of producing and selling certified organic products.


Quotes From Katherine DiMatteo, Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association on Key Issues Related to the Release of the National Organic Standards Recommendations

1. What is OTA’s immediate opinion on the Regulations?

“It’s taken an incredibly long time, but the Organic Trade Association is elated the national rules are now released. Ultimately, organic will not only be a federally regulated term and agricultural system, but a premium standard unparalleled in the marketplace.”

“We can see the end of the road, and it’s exciting after all these years of work. The Organic Trade Association will read and analyze all sections of the proposed regulations before we render an opinion.”

2. Why do the regulations contain a 5% allowance of non-organic ingredients?

“All studies show that today’s consumers want to fill their shopping carts with as many organic products as possible, from produce to dairy and meats to convenience and snack foods. Consumers can now do so with assurance because the current regulations require 95% of all ingredients be certified organic in order for the product to be called organic - and that is across the board. There are still many ingredients and processing aides which are not commercially available as organic. As supplies become available more products will be 100% organic.”

3. What is the OTA’s stance on the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in organic food production?

“Genetically modified organisms should not be a part of the organic process. Organic is a holistic system for growing food and fiber in a sustainable way. Transgenic modification of plants and animals is an unproven technology that the organic system does not need in order to grow high quality products.”

4. Under the new regulations, what will be the responsibilities of the retailer?

“Retailers, the last link of the food chain before the consumer’s plate, will have to follow the rules to the letter of the law when it comes to handling and processing concerns: bulk foods, bakery, and deli, for example. Other areas, such as signage in the produce department, are already addressed by truth in advertising requirements.”

5. Will the introduction of the national standards reduce fraud within the industry?

“The national organic rules create an incredible safety net - a net with the power of enforcement - so that fraud can be prosecuted in every state. In all industries and parts of society, fraud can and does exist. The law for organic, ultimately, protects consumers, as well as the many high integrity growers and producers in the organic industry.”

6. How do organic production methods address E-coli and other food borne bacteria?

“Organic is an agricultural production system designed to preserve and protect the environment, first and foremost. Organically-raised crops and products must also incorporate production systems that prevent/avoid bacterial contamination. Some requirements of organic standards could help reduce the exposure to contamination. For example, meat processed organically must be first in the processing plant, according to the rules, and historically, has been processed in very small batches.“

December 15, 1997

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