Some of the information presented below is excerpted directly from the US National Organic Program.
How does the USDA define organic?
Organic products are divided into four categories. Each category is governed by its own set of labeling requirements. Your certification will fall within one of these four categories:
- 100 Percent Organic. Single ingredient agricultural products (such as raw fruits and vegetables), or products made entirely from 100% organic ingredients.
- Organic. Any agricultural product that, by weight (excluding water and salt), is at least 95% organically produced raw or processed. Up to 5% may be from the list of allowed non-organic substances. (Such substances may not be produced using prohibited methods or processes.)
- Made with Organic (specified ingredients). Any multi-ingredient product containing 70-95% organic ingredients by weight (excluding water and salt). Up to 3 ingredients (or food groups) may be named in this statement. Processed and packaged foods could fall in this category.
- Organic ingredients. Any multi-ingredient product with more than 70% organic ingredients by weight.
What does the USDA National Organic Program require of certified organic product manufacturers?
An organic product or ingredient cannot be produced using:
- any prohibited synthetic or non-synthetic substances
- excluded methods (e.g., genetically modified organisms),
- volatile synthetic solvents or other synthetic processing aids not included the National List
- ionizing radiation
- sewage sludge
In addition, organic products or ingredients may not contain nitrates, nitrites or sulfites (except for wine, which may contain added sulfites). NOP §205.105 and 205.301
What is an Organic Production System Plan ?
Certified producers must complete and file an Organic Production System Plan (the Plan) prior to becoming certified. The Plan provides a physical description of fields or farm parcels intended for use in growing and harvesting organic crops, and a written description of each aspect of organic production, including both pre- and post-harvest operations. The Plan also describes the specific management practices performed to verify effective implementation at all stages of production. For example, the Plan should describe control measures used for the prevention of accidental contamination by prohibited substances, and steps taken to prevent commingling and/or cross-contamination of organic foods with non-organic foods in a split operation. The Plan describes the producer's record-keeping system, compliance monitoring procedures and frequency of monitoring, and training requirements for employees.
What areas of production of crops are impacted by implementing organic management procedures?
Organic management includes methods for pest management, and weed and disease management. With respect to on-farm post-harvest handling facilities, practices and procedures for each aspect of post-harvest handling are includes, as well as a facility's handling of non-organic products if applicable.
What are the labeling requirements?
Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product, as described above. In general, any multi-ingredient product labeled as organic must identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel. The name of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel for 100%, organic and "made with" products. The address of the certifying agent of the final product may be displayed on the information panel. There are no restrictions on use of other truthful labeling claims such as "pesticide residue free," "no drugs or growth hormones used," "free range," or "sustainably harvested." More detail on the USDA's organic labeling requirements are available on their web site.