States Department of Agriculture
Home Page: http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/index.htm
Organic production has been practiced in
the United States since the late 1940s. From
that time, the industry has grown from
experimental garden plots to farms with
surplus products to sell under a special
"organic" label. Food
manufacturers have developed organic
processed products and many retail marketing
chains specialize in the sale of
"organic" products. This growth
stimulated a need for verification that
products are indeed produced according to
certain standards. Thus, the organic
certification industry also evolved. By the
late 1980's, after an attempt to develop a
consensus of production and
certification standards, the organic
industry petitioned Congress to draft the
Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) defining
Congress passed the Act to: (1) establish
national standards governing the marketing
of certain agricultural products as
organically produced products; 2) assure
consumers that organically produced products
meet a consistent
standard; and (3) facilitate commerce in
fresh and processed food that is organically
produced. This proposal is designed to
implement the Act.
Under this law the United States Department
of Agriculture (USDA) was mandated to write
a regulation which explains the law to
producers, handlers and certifiers who are
regulated. The OFPA also provided that an
board, the National Organic Standards Board,
be assembled to help USDA write the
regulation. The Board is comprised of 14
members, each representing different
segments of the organic industry. They make
recommendations to the Secretary, especially
regarding the substances that can be used in
organic production and handling.
As a result of the OFPA, USDA has dedicated
much time and effort to fulfill the
requirements of the statute. By adopting the
NOSB recommendations, listening to public
input, consulting with States and certifying
agents, and considering other Federal
regulations, the NOP Proposed Rule of 2000
has been developed and made available for
review and public comment.
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of
1990, adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill,
requires USDA to develop national standards
for organically produced agricultural
products to assure consumers that
agricultural products marketed as organic
meet consistent, uniform standards. The OFPA
and the National Organic Program (NOP)
require that agricultural products labeled
as organic originate from farms or handling
operations certified by a State or private
agency that has been accredited by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The NOP is a marketing program housed within
the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, the
agency that sets marketing standards.
Neither the OFPA nor these final regulations
address food safety or nutrition.
How the National Organic Program was
The OFPA requires USDA to develop national
organic standards and establish an organic
certification program based on
recommendations of a 15-member National
Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
In addition to NOSB recommendations, USDA
reviewed State, private and foreign organic
certification programs to help formulate
these regulations. The final regulations are
similar to most of the standards organic
producers and handlers currently use, and
are intended to be flexible enough to
accommodate the wide range
of operations and products grown and raised
in every region of the United States.
In December 1997, USDA published a proposed
rule and received 275,603 public comments,
explaining why and how the rule should be
rewritten. A revised proposal was published
in March 2000. An additional 40,774 comments
were received, many of which were
incorporated into the final rule.
What's in the final rule?
The final regulation prohibits the use of
genetic engineering (included in excluded
methods), ionizing radiation, and sewage
sludge. The rule includes the
Production and handling requirements, which
address organic crop production, wild crop
harvesting, organic livestock management,
and processing and handling of organic
agricultural products. The National List of
Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited
Non-Synthetic Substances is also included.
Labeling requirements for organic products,
along with compliance, testing, fee, and
State program approval requirements.
Certification and record keeping
Accreditation requirements for receiving and
maintaining accreditation, as well as
requirements for foreign accreditation.
Other administrative functions of the NOP,
which include evaluation of foreign organic
What's changed in the final
We increased the minimum percentage of
organic ingredients in products labeled
"Made with Organic Ingredients"
from 50 percent to 70 percent.
We adopted 5 percent of the Environmental
Protection Agency's pesticide residue
tolerance as the pesticide residue
See "The Final Rule" on
National Standards "Residue Testing"
Up-Dates in the Organic Food Industry
We allowed wine containing sulfites to be
labeled "Made with Organic
We adjusted the organic feed requirements
for dairy herds when a producer converts the
entire herd to organic production as a
single, one-time event.
We minimized the burden on small farmers
through a change in the composting
We redesigned the USDA Organic Seal to
minimize consumer confusion.
We made clear that use of ionizing
radiation, sewage sludge, and excluded
methods are prohibited throughout organic
production and handling. The rule does allow
one potential exception for use of animal
vaccines produced using excluded methods,
but only if they are first specifically
recommended by the NOSB and approved by the
Secretary, subject to notice and comment
We established a peer review process which
will annually evaluate the NOP's
accreditation decisions and adherence to
We added commercial availability provisions
that require handlers to use organic
ingredients in "organic" products
We established new requirements for the
labeling of organic livestock feed
We allowed handlers to designate on the
principal display panel the exact percentage
of organic content of their product.
This final rule becomes effective 60 days
after its publication in the Federal
Register and will be fully implemented 18
months after its effective date. Eighteen
months after the effective date, all
agricultural products that are sold,
labeled, or represented as organic must be
in compliance with these regulations. The
USDA Seal may not be affixed to any
"100 percent organic," or
"organic," product until 18 months
after the final rule's effective date. Farms
and handling operations that sell less than
$5,000 annually of organic agricultural
products are exempt from certification.
These producers and handlers, while exempt
from certification and the preparation of an
organic plan, must comply with all other
national standards for organic products and
may label their products as organic.
There is also a "Proposed Rule"
in the works. For this and public