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."