The US Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program (NOP) provides certification opportunities to producers, processors, distributors and other handlers of food, fiber and personal care products.
The NOP standard defines acceptable practices, lists substances approved or prohibited from use, and describes record-keeping requirements for the production and handling of organic products. Guidelines and requirements for marketing and labeling organic products are also defined.
To meet certification criteria, companies must:
Annual certification review is required to maintain certification.
Equivalency for Export
USDA NOP standards are recognized by Canada and all EU countries. For certain countries, an addendum may be required to be completed at time of audit.
Save time and money by combining your organic certification with complementary certification, auditing and testing services including: Sustainably Grown, Fair Trade, Food Safety, Flavor, Pesticide Residue Free, and Antioxidant Superfood certification.
While the specifics of certification vary depending on whether the company seeking certification is a food producer, shipper, distributor, wholesaler or handler, the certification process generally involves the following steps:
Apply for Certification
Complete the SCS Application for Organic Certification. This provides our auditors with basic information about your organic handling practices.
SCS reviews your application to determine if we can offer certification services to your operation in compliance with the NOP standard. We prepare an Application Review Letter with the findings. If information provided is satisfactory, we proceed with your certification.
Authorize a Proposal
SCS prepares a proposal for your approval with suggested scope of work, timeline and quote. If the proposal meets your needs, you sign a Work Order. We then contact you to schedule and audit.
On-site Audit and Testing
SCS conducts an annual on-site audit, including collection of samples for testing as may be deemed necessary. The audit includes physical inspection of the site, review of records, interview with personnel, and an exit interview. We prepare a Report of Findings after the audit (and any associated testing) is completed.
If certification is granted, a Certificate of Compliance is issued. If certification is not granted, then the Report of Findings is accompanied by a declaration of status and explanation. The status may be one of the following:
Should additional inspections be required, SCS will prepare a Notification of Additional Inspection that describes the purpose of the additional inspection.
Annual audits are required to maintain certification.
Organic certification has a variety of well-recognized benefits:
Once certified by SCS, you can reinforce your brand with both the USDA Organic seal and the SCS Kingfisher logo, shown to increase brand value.
In addition, certification through SCS gives you the added opportunity to market your pesticide residue free status during the three-year mandatory transition period to organic.
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:
What does the USDA National Organic Program require of certified organic product manufacturers?
An organic product or ingredient cannot be produced using:
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.