US Organic Standards - Organic Trade Association
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US Organic Standards


How were the National Organic Standards created?

Passage of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990 (Title XXI, 1990 Farm Bill) created the U. S. National Organic Standards. The National Organic Program (NOP) of the Agricultural Marketing Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), is authorized to enforce OFPA.

What is the National Organic Programís role?

NOP has the responsibility of implementing the organic standards now that there is a final rule. NOPís role is to accredit state agencies and private organizations that will certify organic producers and handlers, and to oversee enforcement of the standards.

Who developed the National Organic Standards?

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

What is the current status of the standards?

On Dec. 21, 2000, the U. S. Department of Agriculture published a final rule to implement national organic standards. The organic rule went into effect April 21, 2001, and was fully implemented on October 21, 2002.

What happened next?

There was an 18-month implementation period so that producers and processors could comply with the new standards. This implementation period ended in October 2002. As of that time, players in the organic industry must be in compliance with the requirements of the rule.

What do the national organic regulations include?

As promised by USDA, the regulations:

  • prohibit the use of irradiation, sewage sludge, or genetically modified organisms in organic production;
  • reflect NOSB recommendations concerning items on the national list of allowed synthetic and prohibited natural substances;
  • prohibit antibiotics in organic meat and poultry; and
  • require 100% organic feed for organic livestock.

What is the role of the National Organic Standards Board in this process?

NOSB serves as an advisory board to USDA. NOSB recommendations regarding substances that are allowed and prohibited are part of the final rule.

How did the Organic Trade Association prepare for national organic standards?

OTA has long sought national organic standards. Most recently it updated its industry guidelines, resulting in the completion and adoption of the American Organic Standards in October 1999. In addition, OTA submitted detailed comments to USDA to consider in drawing up the final rule.

What is the European Unionís current position on U. S. standards for organic?

U. S. exports to the European Union (EU) have had to be certified by certifying agencies accredited as meeting International Organization for Standardization ISO Guide 65 requirements. Now, with U.S. national organic standards, USDA and EU officials are working on developing an equivalency agreement to expedite exports between the two regions.

Have there been other changes in USDA policy related to organic production?

Due to the organic industryís advocacy, the USDA changed its policy to allow certified organic meat and poultry products to include the word "organic" on product labels on January 14, 1999. Producers still must seek Food Safety Inspection Service approval prior to labeling products. Certified organic meat and poultry products are now available in markets nationwide.

What will national standards mean for consumers?

As of October 2002, all agricultural products labeled "organic" must be in compliance with U. S. organic law. The word "organic" on U. S. products will mean that the ingredients and production methods have been verified by an accredited certification agency as meeting or exceeding USDA standards for organic production. In short, consumers will have the assurance that products labeled "organic" have been produced in compliance with the standards set forth by USDA.

The Organic Trade Association is the leading business association representing the organic industry in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its more than 1600 members include growers, processors, shippers, retailers, certification organizations and others involved in the business of producing and selling certified organic products.

© 2006, Organic Trade Association.

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