Implementing The Organic Foods Production Act
In 1990, the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was adopted as Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill. Its purpose was to establish national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as "organic." Although private and state agencies certify organic practices, there had been no national requirement for certification and thus no guarantee that "organic" meant the same thing from state to state, or even locally from certifier to certifier. Both consumers and producers of organic products have sought national standards to clear up this confusion in the marketplace and to protect against mislabeling or fraud.
OFPA authorized the formation of a National Organic Program (NOP) within USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to establish organic standards and to require and oversee mandatory certification of organic production. Organic certification, by statute, is administered by state and private organizations rather than by the federal government. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the NOP and related agencies, including the Audit Review and Compliance Branch of AMS’s Livestock and Seed Program.
What is the role of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)?
OFPA created the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to advise the Secretary of Agriculture regarding the standards on which USDA’s National Organic Program is based and to advise the Secretary on any other aspects of the implementation of the law. After considering the recommendations of NOSB, the Secretary has final authority in determining the regulations. NOSB is authorized to convene technical advisory panels to advise which materials should be included on a national list of materials allowed for use in organic production.
What were the initial steps toward a proposed rule?
On Dec. 16, 1997, the Federal Register published USDA’s draft of the first proposed rule for implementing organic standards. During the public comment that ended April 30, 1998, USDA received more than 275,000 comments. Because of this feedback, USDA reversed its position on three key issues. On May 8, 1998, USDA agreed to not include irradiation, genetically modified organisms, or sewage sludge in organic production.
In the fall of 1998, USDA asked for comments on three issues: livestock confinement, use of antibiotics and parasiticides with livestock, and certifiers’ authority to decertify. The comment period for those papers closed Dec. 14, 1998. After receiving approximately 9,000 comments on those issue papers, USDA said it did not plan to release any more issue papers.
On March 13, 2000, USDA published a revised proposed rule in the Federal Register. The public had until June 12, 2000, to comment on this version. USDA then began working on a final rule for publication in the Federal Register.
What happens now?
The final rule was published in December, 2000. The rule was implemented over an 18-month period from February, 2001 to October, 2002. All food products currently sold as organic are covered by USDA’s national organic standards.
OTA works with Congress, USDA, certifiers, the NOSB, and of course its members to see that the implementation of the rule maintains the integrity of the organic industry. Over time, OTA expects the rule to evolve and the standards to become more refined, just as organic standards have evolved to reflect best practices over the past several decades. OTA also advocates for federal resources to allow USDA to work to the best of its ability in maintaining strict and consistent national standards and a tough but fair enforcement program, and to provide organic producers with the same advantages enjoyed by conventional producers.
OTA is also working to develop new standards for emerging industries, such as fiber processing, personal care products, and other non-food products, as well as providing guidance on good organic retail practices.
What will national standards mean for consumers?
Now that the national standards are in effect, all agricultural products labeled "organic" must come into compliance with the U.S. organic law. The word "organic" on U.S. products means 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 have the assurance that products labeled as "organic" adhere to the standards set forth by USDA.
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