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Organic Foods Production Act Backgrounder - Organic Trade Association
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Organic Foods Production Act Backgrounder

 

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill. Its purpose was to establish national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as "organic." Previously, private and State agencies had been certifying organic practices, but there was no uniformity in standards and therefore no guarantee that "organic" meant the same thing from state to state, or even locally from certifier to certifier. National standards for organic products were desired by both producers and consumers to clear up this confusion in the marketplace and to protect against mislabeling or fraud.


OFPA allows for state standards that are more restrictive than the federal standards, but they must be approved by the USDA. In addition, states can not discriminate against out-of-state products that meet the federal standards.


The National Organic Program

OFPA authorized the formation of a National Organic Program (NOP) to establish organic standards, and to require and oversee mandatory certification of organic production. The NOP will be implemented once the Final Rules are signed by the Secretary of Agriculture. (See chart, "NOP Implementation Process," inside back cover.) The NOP, by statute, is administered by State and private organizations rather than by the Federal government. The USDA’s role is to act as overseer to the Program.


While the NOP has required federal funding during its developmental stages, it is expected that, as with similar USDA programs, future costs will be covered by user fees paid by certifying agencies. Currently, fees for certification are paid by growers and processors to private or state certifying agencies. See "Organic Certification" and "Accreditation of Certifying Agents" for details on these programs. See "Who’s Who at the USDA" for information on contacting NOP/USDA staff.


The National Organic Standards Board

Under the Act, a National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) was created to advise the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards on which the USDA’s National Organic Program will be based. The NOSB wanted their recommendations to be based on industry consensus. They asked for and received an unprecedented amount of public input from farmers, businesses and consumers during every step of their decision-making process. After considering the recommendations of the NOSB, the Secretary has final authority in determining the regulations.

Appointments to the NOSB are made by the Secretary of Agriculture for five year terms, and must include:

four farmers;
two handlers/processors;
one retailer;
one scientist (with expertise in toxicology, ecology or biochemistry);
three consumer/public interest advocates;
three environmentalists.

In addition to making recommendations on the national standards, the NOSB is authorized to convene Technical Advisory Panels to advise on materials to be included on a National List of materials allowed for use in organic production. See "The National List" for more information on these materials. See "Resource List" for contact information for NOSB members.


The National Organic Standards Board Definition of "Organic"

The following definition of "organic" was passed by the NOSB at its April 1995 meeting in Orlando, FL.

"Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.


‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.


Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.

Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people."

Organic Certification

Certification is key to the National Organic Program. It assures that organic growers and handlers are, in fact, adhering to the law. After the Act goes into effect, it will be a federal offense to label any product as "organic" unless it has been certified. All uses of the labeling term "organic" will be regulated. See "Organic Processing, Handling & Labeling" for more details.

The certification process focuses on the methods and materials used in production. There are three main requirements:

1.) The methods and materials used in production must meet organic standards.

2.) There must be clear and ongoing documentation of these methods and materials.

3.) There must be a paper trail to trace a product back to its production site, in order to verify the methods and materials used in its production.

Who Must Be Certified?

With two exceptions (listed below), everyone who wants to sell products labeled as "organic" must be certified. This includes producers of organic livestock, food and fiber crops, and "handlers" of organic products.


A "handler" is any operation that "receives, processes, packages, or stores agricultural products." Some examples: a processing company that buys organic tomatoes and makes canned spaghetti sauce; or any distributor who "substantially transforms, repacks or relabels organic agricultural products." This last distinction is meant to exclude brokering, warehousing or trucking operations that merely store or move finished processed products from place to place without altering them in any way.


Exceptions to Certification Requirements

Growers who gross less than $5,000 annually are exempt from certification. The NOSB recommends that these growers sign a declaration (available from certifying agencies) stating that they understand and are in compliance with the Act, and that they have a written Organic Farm Plan (see below), which can be made available to the public upon request. The NOSB further recommends that growers falling under this "Small Farm Exemption" may not use the term "certified organic" when marketing their crops, and may market through direct sales only (i.e. farm stands, farmers’ markets, or direct sales to a retailer).


At present, retailers aren’t required to be certified. The NOSB, however, recommends certification for retailers that engage in activities which qualify them as "handlers." (An example: repacking bulk products such as dry beans or grain.)


How The Certification Process Works

A grower or handler seeking organic certification submits an Organic Farm Plan or an Organic Handling Plan to a USDA-accredited private or state certification program. See "Accreditation of Certifying Agents."


The Organic Plan
must detail all current growing or handling methods and any materials which will be used. The Plan also covers future intentions and improvements to all areas of production. See "Crop Production Standards", "Livestock Production" and "Processing, Handling & Labeling" for some highlights. See "The National List" for specifics on agricultural and processing materials.


Even growers or harvesters of organic wild crops, such as fiddlehead ferns, must develop a Plan showing that harvesting practices will not be destructive to the environment or to the future productivity of the crop.


Five-year records must be kept of all management practices and materials used in organic production.


In addition to assessing the Organic Plan, the certification agency performs annual on-site inspections of each farm or handling operation participating in its program. Certification is then either awarded or denied. User fees are collected from each grower or handler to cover the cost of the certification program.


Allowance for a Split Operation

The Act does allow for only part of a farm or handling operation to be certified. The organic and conventional parts of the operation must be kept separate — whether by physical boundaries and buffer zones, in the case of a farm, or by proper cleaning and management of facilities and machinery, in the case of a handler.


Separate records
must be kept for each part of a split operation.

This provision can be seen as a short term compromise. The NOSB’s intent is to encourage conversion to 100% certified organic production.


Accreditation of Certifying Agents

Only USDA-accredited agencies can act as certifiers. Certifying agencies can be either state or private, but they must have expertise in organic farming and handling techniques. They must be able to fully implement all aspects of the certification program, including hiring an adequate number of inspectors to carry out on-site inspections. Applicants are assessed by the USDA and may be reviewed by a peer review panel of organic experts, appointed by the Secretary of

Agriculture

Accreditation may be granted by the USDA for a period not to exceed five years, and may be renewed. User fees are collected from each certifying agency to cover the cost of the accreditation program.

Recordkeeping


Certifying agents must keep ten-year records of all of their activities. The Act allows for "public access to certification documents" (upon request). However, business-related information is considered strictly confidential and may not be disclosed to anyone other than the USDA and state agencies, which can access certification records at any time. The USDA will also conduct on-site audits of all records.


Conflict of Interest

The NOSB recommends that any employee of a certifying agency who has a commercial interest — including consultancy — in a farm or other operation being considered for certification must be isolated from the decision-making process. Payment (other than certification fees), gifts or favors of any kind can not be accepted from businesses being certified.

Loss of Accreditation


The USDA or a state organic program can suspend accreditation if a certifier is not in compliance with the Act (including a conflict of interest, above). The USDA or the state program must decide promptly whether or not clients of a suspended certifier may keep their certification. See "Enforcement and Penalties."


Organic Crop Production Standards

Organically produced crops must be grown on land which has been free of prohibited substances for three years prior to harvest. Crops grown on land which is "in transition" to organic (during the first three years after switching from conventional farming, for instance) can not be labeled as organic. The Act makes no provision for a USDA-sanctioned "transitional" label.


The Act covers organic agricultural methods and materials in great detail, including managing soil fertility, when and how manure may be applied to crops, crop rotation, and composting. Compost ingredients recommended by the NOSB include crop residues, crop waste from food processing operations, animal manures, yard waste from private or municipal sources, or other vegetable by-products. The NOSB recommends prohibiting municipal solid waste compost and sewage sludge compost, and the use of any prohibited material as a compost ingredient. The NOSB also recommends that all ingredients must be documented.


Prevention is considered a grower’s first approach to pest management, but the Act establishes a National List of acceptable and prohibited materials, which includes pest control treatments as well as other agricultural inputs such as fertilizers and seed treatments. See "The National List" for more details.


The NOSB recommends that all agricultural inputs be evaluated as to their long term affect on the environment — not simply on whether they are synthetic or natural.

The following highlights address some of the questions most frequently asked about the NOSB Recommendations for Organic Crop Production Standards.


Pesticide/Fertilizer Drift

Organic farmers are responsible for establishing adequate buffer zones or barriers to protect against pesticide or fertilizer drift from neighboring conventional farms. Organic crops which have been contaminated in this way can not be sold or labeled as organic, or fed to organic livestock.

Certifying agents are responsible for verifying such incidents, and for deciding when products from the area may again be sold as organic. The certifier may also decide to implement pre-harvest residue testing. (See "Residue Testing," below.)


Emergency Pest Eradication Programs

The NOSB recommends that local, state and federal agencies avoid treating certified organic farms during emergency pest eradication programs, and that they seek alternatives to chemical pest control methods on these farms. Organic growers are responsible for registering their farms with the appropriate state and local agencies to facilitate this.

The NOSB also recommends that certified organic farms be compensated for damages resulting from emergency pest eradication programs.


Residue Testing

Although the NOSB feels strongly that residue standards do not define organic food, it recommends that organic products "shall not contain pesticide residues in excess of the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) action level or 5% of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) tolerance."


The NOSB proposes the following residue testing system:

1.) National monitoring through the Federal Regulatory Monitoring program of at least
one percent (1%) of organic fresh produce and processed product samples;

2.) State monitoring by those states which conduct pesticide residue programs;

3.) Local monitoring by certification agencies when suspicions of contamination arise, or
for a three year period following an emergency spray program, or
to follow up on positive results from federal, state or local government testing, or
in response to complaints.

Organic Livestock Production

Standards for organic livestock production are meant to assure both an organic product to the consumer and living conditions for farm animals which limit stress and promote good health. They address substances used in health care and feeding, as well as herd or flock management and housing.


"Livestock" includes cattle, sheep, goats, swine, poultry, fish, wild or domesticated game and horses raised for slaughter or used as draft animals. There are even standards for organic bee-keeping. Regardless of whether they’re raised as breeding stock, as dairy animals, or for slaughter, all livestock is covered by the Act.


The following highlights address some of the questions most frequently asked about the NOSB Recommendations for Organic Livestock Standards.


Feeding Organic Livestock

Quite simply, organic livestock must be fed organic feed.


The NOSB recommends that conventional feed be allowed only if the organic feed supply has been compromised by a national, state or local weather emergency, or by fire or flood on an organic farm.


Growth promoters and hormones, and plastic pellets for roughage in feed are prohibited.

Synthetic vitamins and minerals are allowed. See "The National List" for more details.


Housing and Health Care for Organic Livestock

Healthy living conditions and attentive care are considered first steps in the prevention of illness. Therefore, animals must not be overcrowded, and must be allowed periodic access to the outdoors and direct sunlight. Antibiotics, wormers and other medications may not be used routinely as preventative measures. See "The National List" for specific details on medications recommended by the NOSB for use in organic livestock health care.


Recordkeeping for Organic Livestock

Records must be kept on all feeding and health care practices for each animal or flock, and there must be a verifiable audit trail to trace any animal or flock back to the farm.


Organic Processing, Handling and Labeling

Standards for the processing, handling and labeling of organic products cover all steps in the process from receiving organic raw materials, acceptable processing aids and ingredients, appropriate packaging materials and labeling, to cleaning methods, waste disposal and pest management at processing facilities.


The following highlights address some of the questions most frequently asked about the NOSB Recommendations for Organic Processing, Handling & Labeling Standards.


Processing Additives

The following additives are not allowed in organic processing: sulfites, nitrates or nitrites; any ingredient known to contain higher levels of heavy metals or toxic residues than permitted by federal regulation; and any non-agricultural ingredient that is not organically produced unless it is designated as acceptable on The National List.


Labeling of Organic Products

Ninety-five percent (95%) of the ingredients in a processed product must be organically produced and the processor must be a certified organic handler in order for the finished product to be labeled as organic. The five percent (5%) non-organic ingredient criteria is determined by the total weight of the finished product, not including air, salt or water. Water used in organic processing must meet all requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act.


Special provisions allow labeling to state that a product contains organic ingredients. Products with more than fifty percent (50%) organic ingredients may display this information on the front label; those with less than fifty percent (50%) organic ingredients must display this information in the ingredient listing panel.


Some examples: A label which reads "Organic Vegetable Soup" would be stating that ninety-five percent of the total ingredients of that soup (by weight) are certified as organic. Alternately, a soup label might read "Vegetable Soup" and include the phrase "Made with Organic Vegetables" on the front panel, indicating that the primary ingredients are organic and make up more than fifty percent of the total ingredients by weight. Another label might read simply "Vegetable Soup" and include the word "organic" to identify specific items in the ingredient listing panel — as in "Potatoes, carrots and organic kidney beans."


Packaging Materials

Organic products can not be packaged in materials, storage containers or bins that contain synthetic fungicides, preservatives or fumigants. The reuse of containers which have been in contact with any prohibited substance is not allowed.


Imported Products

Imported products may be labeled as "organically produced" if the Secretary of Agriculture determines that they have been produced and handled under an organic program that meets or exceeds the requirements of the USDA’s National Organic Program.

Enforcement and Penalties


Mislabeling and False Statements

Any person who knowingly mislabels a product as organic can be fined a maximum of $10,000 and may be disbarred from the Organic Program for five years. Persons who make false statements to the Secretary of Agriculture, a state official or a certifying agent are subject to penalties under Federal law, and may be disbarred from the program for five years.


Violations by Certifying Agencies

A certifying agency that violates the provisions of the program or falsely or negligently certifies any operation shall lose accreditation and shall not be eligible for re-accreditation for three years.


The National List

A uniform "National List" of materials was mandated by Congress as part of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). Its purpose is to make clear which materials can and cannot be used in organic production, processing and handling in the United States.


Who defines the National List?

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is responsible for recommending to the Secretary of Agriculture which materials will be on the list. The Secretary of Agriculture makes the final determination. A Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) gathers and evaluates the scientific data and makes recommendations to the board based on seven review criteria:

1.) Effect on human health.

2.) Effect on the farm ecosystem.

3.) Toxicity and mode of action.

4.) Availability of gentler alternatives.

5.) Probability of environmental contamination during manufacture, use and disposal.

6.) Potential for interactions with other materials used.

7.) Overall compatibility with a system of sustainable agriculture.

In 1995, the NOSB completed a massive review of the materials in use by organic producers, and those recommendations became the base for the National List. The procedure is ongoing, as new materials are reviewed for inclusion or prohibition.


How is The National List structured?

The NOSB recommends that the National List be divided into three parts:

1.) Acceptable synthetic production materials;
2.) Prohibited natural production materials;
3.) Acceptable non-agricultural, non-synthetic processing aids.

These lists contain the exceptions to the basic understanding within the organic industry that all organically grown and handled foods are produced with solely natural materials.

This may seem like an unusual structure. However, it avoids the problem of trying to list every natural material organic growers or processors might use. Such a list might neglect to mention all of the local resources available in a given region.


Why are there exceptions?

Organic production systems encourage a healthy environment with as few inputs as possible. The NOSB recommends that cultural, biological and other management tools be sought to replace material inputs — whether synthetic or natural.


Congress, in passing the OFPA, recognized that it will take time for organic producers and handlers to achieve the long term goals expressed in the Act. The National List was meant to reflect realistic organic practices, and to take into account current obstacles to ideal organic production. Therefore, some synthetics are allowed if the review process shows that they are:

Not harmful to human health or the environment;
Necessary to production because of unavailability of natural products;
Consistent with organic ideals.

Likewise, the law provides for prohibition of natural materials that may be harmful to human health or the environment, and inconsistent with organic ideals.


Following are some of the questions most frequently asked about the materials recommended by the NOSB for inclusion on The National List.


Why are there no brand names on The List?

The National List applies only to "generic" materials which are active ingredients, and does not apply directly to brand name products. The complexity of brand name product formulations, the changeable nature of what is on the marketplace at any given time, and manufacturer’s concerns over confidentiality made this approach the most viable.


Do organic farmers use any pesticides or pest control products?

Yes. Sometimes, organic farmers find that they need to use pest control products as part of an ecological farm plan. However, they may only use products included as "acceptable" in the National List.


When would an organic grower need to use a pesticide or pest control product?

In a natural ecosystem, predators keep plant pests in check, while diseases strike individual plants or may even wipe out a species. Nature constantly works to correct imbalances. Organic farmers also strive for such a balance, but farming interferes with the native mix of plants and animals, and so farmers must contend with the problems that arise. They must also meet customer expectations of quality — and do all of this in an economic fashion. The allowed pesticides are, therefore, sometimes used as a corrective measure when cultural methods of pest control have failed.


Organic farmers look for pesticides that target their pest specifically while impacting the ecosystem as little as possible. For example, if a field of tomatoes has attracted a large population of tomato hornworms, a natural toxin can be sprayed which harms only leaf-eating caterpillars. If aphids are the problem, a light petroleum oil spray could be used to suffocate these soft-bodied insects without harming their predators.


Next season, the farmer might change his fertility plan or use a natural repellent such as a garlic or cayenne spray to make the crop less attractive, use crop covers and rotations to encourage beneficial predators, or use traps and visual inspection to catch the problem earlier.

What is the difference between IPM and organic production?

IPM, or Integrated Pest Management, differs from organic production in three ways. First, IPM only addresses pest control and not fertility. Second, IPM focuses on reducing chemical sprays, but has no compunction about using them when indicators point to a need. Third, IPM allows for the use of any synthetic pesticide as a last resort measure, rather than restricting to natural and least toxic materials.


What synthetic materials does the NOSB recommend for use in crop production?


Petroleum oil and soaps
are allowed for insect control because of their benign nature to people and the environment. They also do little harm to beneficial insects.


Pheromones
are chemicals identical to those given off by insects in locating food or mates. They are used in small quantities to lure pests to traps in the field, or to confuse them so that they won’t mate. Pheromones have been revolutionary throughout agriculture in reducing pesticide usage.


Copper and sulfur compounds
can stop plant diseases that could destroy entire crops. These metallic compounds mechanically kill fungus spores and have been in use for centuries. Other disease control practices include variety and site selection, proper plant spacing and improved irrigation methods. Research is leading to biological controls, but in the meantime, copper and sulfur are allowed for fungus control, along with two antibiotics for virus control on the leaf surface of plants.


Cleaning compounds,
specifically alcohol and bleach, are recommended by the NOSB for inclusion in the National List for use in disinfecting irrigation systems and food contact surfaces.


Micronutrient fertilizers
are usually synthetic, but needed in very small amounts. While most natural fertilizers will supply adequate micronutrients, when soil testing shows that micronutrients are needed, they are allowed to balance fertility. Balanced, fertile soil will grow crops with the fewest pest problems and the most nutrition.


Plastic mulch and covers
are allowed for weed, insect, and frost protection. Plastics are synthetic, but in this use are not disrupting the natural balance and actually reduce the need for pesticides. They must be removed from the field at the end of each season and may not be plowed in or allowed to decompose.


Liquid fish emulsion
also appears on the list of approved synthetics because of added
processing aids. Small quantities of pH adjusters are added to keep the product stable and prevent fermentation in storage.


What are some of the natural substances that the NOSB recommends be prohibited?


Arsenic
for insect control, and strychnine for rodent control are some of the few natural materials prohibited in organic production. Their high toxicity and concern about residues has warranted this exclusion. Restrictions have also been placed on the use of other natural materials because they disrupt the ecological balance or are of moderate natural toxicity.


The botanical pest controls
Rotenone, Pyrethrum, Ryania, Sabadilla, Neem and Tobacco Dust are derived from plants. Their use is recommended only when primary methods of defense have failed. This is because they are "broad spectrum" in action and may affect not only the target pest, but also other insects they contact. These materials are registered with the EPA and have undergone safety testing, falling into EPA’s least toxic category. Botanicals are preferred in organic production to synthetic least toxic pesticides because they break down quickly into common natural compounds. An important measure of the safety of these plant-derived materials is their known effects based on historical use for the last 3,000 years.


Sodium nitrate
(commonly known as Chilean nitrate) is also a restricted material. Its high salt content may disrupt soil biology, and it is used to feed the plant directly rather than increasing overall soil fertility. While direct feeding may be necessary in certain situations, organic producers should not rely too heavily on this method of fertilizing. Use of sodium nitrate is restricted to a small percent of the total nitrogen requirement of the crop, thus encouraging growers to build soil fertility with less soluble materials that have a lower impact on soil biology.

Why are antibiotics allowed in organic livestock production?

Organic feed, good living conditions and attentive care are usually enough to support animals without medication. However, animals do get sick, and it would be contrary to the underlying values of organic production to let an animal suffer or die when treatment is available. The NOSB therefore recommends that antibiotics be allowed only for the treatment of a sick animal, not as a growth promoter or preventive measure, and never on a routine basis. If an animal intended for slaughter must be given antibiotics, it can no longer be considered organic. If a breeding animal, dairy cow, or laying hen must be given antibiotics, the NOSB recommends it be taken out of the organic production system for an appropriate withdrawal period.


What other drugs does the NOSB recommend for livestock health care?

Synthetic wormers are recommended as allowed for use in much the same way as antibiotics; to prevent the suffering or death of an animal. However, they cannot be used routinely. The producer must have a plan in place to prevent worm infestation. Without such a plan, the producer cannot be certified.


Other recommended allowed synthetics
in livestock production include vitamins and trace minerals to balance nutritional requirements, aspirin for inflammation, electrolytes for dehydration, local anesthetics with appropriate withdrawal periods, and milk replacers when fresh milk is not available.


Why are there non-organic ingredients in some organic food?

If you were to make organic cookies at home you would naturally use organic flour, oil, eggs, raisins, etc. But what about the salt and baking soda? Because they are non-agricultural products, neither of these ingredients meets the definition of organic. Processors of many kinds of organic foods face the same dilemma. In addition, nutritional fortification is sometimes required by regulation or professional guidelines, but not available in natural form.


Thus the NOSB recommends that the National List include synthetic processing aids and natural products such as minerals that are not agricultural. For the finished food to be called organic, these ingredients may not comprise more than 5% of the total product, by weight.


What are some of the non-organic ingredients recommended by the NOSB?

Recommended non-synthetic ingredients include baking soda as a leavener, some calcium compounds, pectin for jelling, and lecithin for consistency. Carrageenan and agar-agar are seaweed products not available in certified organic form, but are recommended as allowed materials for thickening and smooth consistency. Nitrogen and oxygen are recommended as allowed processing aids with restrictions as to source. The NOSB also recommends that bacterial enzymes, cultures and yeast be allowed unless produced from gene splicing.

Recommended synthetic ingredients include the synthesized version of carbon dioxide (a naturally occurring gas) for use in carbonation and pest control, ferrous sulfate and other vitamins and minerals for nutritional fortification, and bleach for cleaning surfaces. The use of ethylene gas, a processed version of the gas naturally produced by fruits for ripening, is recommended by the NOSB only for bananas, since the travel required to get them to market often precludes ripening on the tree. Synthetic magnesium chloride is available for making tofu, as the FDA restricts the natural form due to health hazards from impurities.


Summary

Decisions such as these have been made in painstaking detail. In many cases, a material may be allowed for one use, but prohibited from another because more natural alternatives exist. Other materials have restrictions on how they may be produced, with some forms being less acceptable than others.


Glossary of Terms and Abbreviations

Accreditation The process used by USDA to ensure that each certifying agent is competent, independent of financial concern in the operations it certifies, and maintaining the legal standard for organic production.

AMS/TMD The Agricultural Marketing Service, Transportation and Marketing Division of the USDA. The National Organic Program falls within this division.

Botanicals Pesticides derived from plants. These may be quite high in natural toxicity or may upset the predator-prey balance. Therefore their use is restricted.

Buffer zone An area of land designed to intercept pesticide/fertilizer drift and prevent it from contaminating an organic field.

Certification The process used by certifying agents to ensure that each producer or handler of organic food or fiber meets the standards for organic production, processing and handling. Certification always includes on-site inspection of the production operation.

Certifying agent (or agency) Any company, organization or government body who offers the service of organic certification. A certifying agent must be accredited by USDA, and may not have any financial or personal interest in the producer.

Compost The carefully managed process in which crop residues and other vegetable by-products are digested by microbial action.

Cover crop A crop grown on idle land for soil conservation purposes, not for sale.

Cultural methods Mechanical and management techniques that contribute to pest control. These may include early planting or harvesting, variety selection, plant spacing, companion planting, clean-up of crop debris.

Green manure A crop grown for its fertilizer and soil conditioning value. Green manure crops are plowed or tilled into the soil, not harvested.

HANDLER Any operation (or part of one) that "receives, processes, packages, or stores agricultural products." Includes food processors and distributors who "substantially alter" organic agricultural products.

Inspector A person independent from the certifying agent’s decision-making process who visits the grower, processor or handler being certified. The inspector interviews the producer, observes all areas of production, and reviews record-keeping for completeness and accuracy.

MICRONUTRIENTS Nutrients required by food crops in small amounts. For example: boron, zinc, iron and manganese.

Natural From a plant, animal or mineral source which has not been altered except by chopping, grinding, separating, drying, freezing, heating, or fermentation.

NOP The National Organic Program. The NOP was established to implement the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. It is administered by state and private agencies with the USDA acting as overseer. Often used to refer to the organic regulations as well.

NOSB National Organic Standards Board. A USDA advisory board established to help develop the organic standards. Also responsible for convening Technical Advisory Panels (TAPs) to evaluate materials for the National List. Appointments are made by the Secretary of Agriculture.

OFF FARM INPUTS Materials such as fertilizers or pest control treatments which are bought from outside sources to be used in growing crops. (To contrast, many growers produce some "inputs", such as compost, on-farm.)

OFPA The Organic Foods Production Act. This act, which was Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill, mandated the establishing of national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as "organic."

Organic Farm or Handling Plan A written document which sets forth the producer’s current methods, future intentions, and plan for improvement in all areas of production.

OTA Organic Trade Association. An umbrella organization for the organic industry. Includes organic growers, processors, distributors, suppliers, brokers, retailers, certifiers, and non-profit organizations and individuals from the U.S. and Canada. The OTA offers information services, educational resources, legislative representation, government liaison, and promotional programs to its members.

Pesticide/fertilizer drift Pesticides or fertilizers applied to neighboring land which are carried by wind or water to an organic field.

Synthetics Substances made by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a natural substance.

TAP Technical Advisory Panel. A panel of experts convened by the NOSB to evaluate scientific data on materials being considered for the National List.

Transition A time period in which a farm or other operation moves toward organic certification by improving soil fertility, reducing use of prohibited materials, and developing an organic plan.

 
 
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