USDA National Organic Program
What is Organic Certification?
Sales of organic food topped $57.5 billion dollars in 2021 and continue to grow. More than 15% of all fruits and vegetables sold in America now are organic. Organic certification verifies that the farm or handling facility located anywhere in the world complies with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic regulations allowing labeling and sales of products as organic. Organic certification means the farmers and businesses have met strict standards for the growing, processing, and handling of their products. The USDA organic seal on products assures consumers that the product contains a minimum of 95 percent organic content. USDA Organic Certification by SCS Global Services verifies that products are in fact Organic, setting them apart in the market and giving customers the confidence they need to make informed purchasing decisions.
Why Choose SCS Global Services?
SCS was among the first certifiers to be accredited under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) and works successfully with innovative growers and handlers around the globe to promote responsible agricultural practices. We provide Organic certification across the entire U.S. and internationally. With competitive rates, first-class service, and prompt turnaround times, we will help you become a part of the growing organic movement. Certification through SCS provides the unique opportunity to actively market your pesticide residue-free status during the three-year mandatory transition period to organic. Save time and money by combining your organic certification with complementary certification, auditing and testing services including Non-GMO Project Verification, Sustainably Grown, Fair Trade, SCS Gluten-Free certification and SCS Plant-Based certification.
- Program Details
- Program Documents
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:
- Prepare and implement an Organic Production or Handling System Plan
- Comply with Organic Management Practices
- Maintain relevant records for at least 5 years
- Label products in an appropriate manner
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.
Access the Organic Certification Fee Schedule here.
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 an 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:
- additional information or corrective actions required;
- existing certification should be suspended or revoked, or
- certification is denied.
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:
- Satisfy the growing market for organic foods
- Fine-tune your agrochemical applications and save money
- Take the first step toward achieving broader sustainability objectives
- Meet or exceed residue testing requirements of GlobalG.A.P., SQF Integrated Pest Management Program and Tesco Nurture
- Prove compliance with the maximum residue limits (MRL) of all countries where your products are sold
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:
- 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.
Ready to start the process? Complete an Application.