NATIONAL ORGANIC FOOD STANDARDS
Secretary Dan Glickman just announced the final national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products.
"This is the strongest and most comprehensive organic standard in the world," said Glickman. For consumers who want to buy organic foods, the standards ensure that they can be confident in knowing what they are buying. For farmers, these standards create clear guidelines on how to take advantage of the exploding demand for organic products. And for the organic industry, these standards provide an important marketing tool to help boost exports since trading partners will now deal with only one national standard rather than multiple state and private standards. I have said all along that we would create national organic standards that farmers, consumers and the organic industry will embrace, and I think we have done just that."
Essentially, the new organic standard offers a national definition for the term "organic." It details the methods, practices and substances that can be used in producing and handling organic crops and livestock, as well as processed products. It establishes clear organic labeling criteria, and specifically prohibits the use of genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge for fertilization.
All agricultural products labeled organic must originate from farms or handling operations certified by a state or private agency accredited by USDA. Farms and handling operations that sell less than $5,000 worth per year of organic agricultural products are exempt from certification. Farmers and handlers have 18 months to comply with the national standards.
Glickman also announced that USDA will provide financial assistance to farmers in 15 states to help pay their costs for organic certification. The states selected are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming. Payments will be limited to 70 percent of an individual producer's certification costs, up to a maximum of $500.
The final standard includes several changes from the proposed rule issued in March --
Consumers will begin to see new organic labeling on products in their local grocery stores by the summer of 2001, with full implementation by mid-2002.
Organic farming is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture during the 1990s. USDA estimates that the value of retail sales of organic foods in 1999 was approximately $6 billion. The number of organic farmers is increasing by about 12 percent per year and now stands at about 12,200 nationwide, most of them small-scale producers. According to a recent USDA study, certified organic cropland more than doubled from 1992 to 1997. Two organic livestock sectors, eggs and dairy, grew even faster.
The final national organic standards rule, which takes into consideration over 300,000 public comments, will be published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000. The rule, along with detailed fact sheets and other background information, is available today on the web at.
[As prepared for delivery]
"Good morning. It's a great pleasure to be here to announce the release of the final rule on national organic standards.
"I am proud to say that these are the strictest, most comprehensive organic standards in the world. We said that we would deliver standards that could be embraced by farmers, industry and consumers alike...and we have done exactly that. I am confident that our work will lead to even greater growth and opportunity in what is already a $6 billion dollar organic food industry.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank Under Secretary Mike Dunn, Deputy Under Secretary Enrique Figueroa, and especially Kathleen Merrigan, Mike Fernandez and Keith Jones and their team at the Agricultural Marketing Service. Their outstanding, exhaustive, painstaking work made this day possible. Let me also single out Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Rich Rominger, who grows organic crops on his family farm, and the National Organic Standards Board, led by Carolyn Brickey. And I'm also pleased that the Senate's leading champion of organic agriculture, Senator Pat Leahy, could be here.
"This has been a true public-private partnership. The standards are as so sound because we have worked with consumer and environmental advocates, with organic farmers like Amy and Travis Forgues, and with industry leaders like Katherine DiMatteo of the Organic Trade Association.
"These new standards are a win for both farmers and consumers. For farmers, the standards create clear guidelines for how to take advantage of the exploding demand for organic products. For consumers, the organic standards offer another choice in the marketplace. Those who want to buy organic can do so with the confidence of knowing exactly what it is that they're buying.
"I want to talk for a minute about how we reached this final rule, because I think the process is critical to the strength of the standards.
"There's a misperception, I think, about how government rules are drawn up. Some people believe that it's done behind closed doors, without accountability or public input. The reality is that it is a transparent, fully inclusive process, and the drafting of the organic standards was no different. In fact, the organic standards represent government rule-making at its very best. They are the product of a full-throated public debate.
"When the proposed rule was first released three years ago, the public response was staggering -- 275,603 comments, more than one comment for every minute of the public comment period. The people spoke; we listened; and we responded by dramatically changing the rule last March. Most notably, we revised the standards to say that no food could be called organic if irradiation, sewage sludge, or genetic engineering was used in its production.
"Before finalizing the rule, we submitted it for another round of public comment, resulting in additional changes, some of which I want to highlight for you:
"Let me be clear about one other thing. The organic label is a marketing tool. It is not a statement about food safety. Nor is "organic" a value judgment about nutrition or quality. USDA is not in the business of choosing sides, of stating preferences for one kind of food, one set of ingredients or one means of production over any other. As long as rigorous government safety standards are being met, we stand ready to do what we can to help support any farmer and help market any kind of food.
"Today, we're also announcing a new cost-share program that will help small producers in 15 states receive the organic certification required by the new standards. About half of the nation's organic farmers are not currently certified. This new initiative allows the government to pay 70 percent of a producer's certification costs or $500, whichever is higher.
"But there's still more we can do and are doing to invest in this industry that is just now coming of age. We are exploring the feasibility of marketing organic fruits and vegetables through USDA marketing order programs. We must also devote more resources to organic agriculture research.
"As we look ahead to a new farm bill in the next year or two, I believe it must address the growing importance of organic agriculture. It won't be enough to renew the same old programs, which support the same crops in the same parts of the country. We need a more innovative approach, which recognizes, promotes and nurtures the growing diversity of American agriculture. And organic production is very much a part of that diversity.
"We have completed this rule. Now it's time to take the next steps...to fully embrace organic agriculture and gives it a more prominent role in the farm policy of the 21st century. Thank you."
National Organic Program Overview
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, requires USDA to develop national standards fororganically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that agricultural products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniformstandards. The OFPA and the National Organic Program (NOP) require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms orhandling 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 theOFPA nor these final regulations address food safety or nutrition.
How the National Organic Program was developed
The OFPA requires USDA to develop national organic standards and establish an organic certification program based on recommendations ofa 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
In addition to NOSB recommendations, USDA reviewed State, private and foreign organic certification programs to help formulate theseregulations. The final regulations are similar to most of the standards organic producers and handlers currently use, and are intended to beflexible enough to accommodate the wide range of operations and products grown and raised in every region of the United States.
In December , USDA published a proposed rule and received 275,603 public comments, explaining why and how the rule should berewritten. A revised proposal was published in March 2000. An additional 40,774 comments were received, many of which were incorporatedinto 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 ruleincludes the following:
Production and handling requirements, which address organic crop production, wild crop harvesting, organic livestock management, andprocessing and handling of organic agricultural products. The National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances isalso included. Labeling requirements for organic products, along with compliance, testing, fee, and State program approval requirements. Certification and recordkeeping requirements.
Accreditation requirements for receiving and maintaining accreditation, as well as requirements for foreign accreditation. Other administrativefunctions of the NOP, which include evaluation of foreign organic certification programs.
What's changed in the final regulation?
We increased the minimum percentage of organic ingredients in products labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" from 50 percent to 70percent.
We adopted 5 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency's pesticide residue tolerance as the pesticide residue compliance threshold.
We allowed wine containing sulfites to be labeled "Made with Organic Grapes."
We adjusted the organic feed requirements for dairy herds when a producer converts the entire herd to organic production as a single, one-timeevent.
We minimized the burden on small farmers through a change in the composting standards.
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 specificallyrecommended by the NOSB and approved by the Secretary, subject to notice and comment rulemaking.
We established a peer review process which will annually evaluate the NOP's accreditation decisions and adherence to accreditationprocedures.
We added commercial availability provisions that require handlers to use organic ingredients in "organic" products whenever possible.
We established new requirements for the labeling of organic livestock feed products.
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 effectivedate. Eighteen months after the effective date, all agricultural products that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be in compliancewith these regulations. The USDA Seal may not be affixed to any "100 percent organic," or "organic," product until 18 months after the final rule'seffective 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 nationalstandards for organic products and may label their products as organic.
Labeling and Marketing Information
The Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Program (NOP) are intended to assure consumers that the organic foods theypurchase are produced, processed, and certified to consistent national organic standards. The labeling requirements of the new program applyto raw, fresh products and processed foods that contain organic ingredients. Foods that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic will have tobe produced and processed in accordance with the NOP standards.
Except for operations whose gross agricultural income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less, farm and processing operations that grow andprocess organic foods must be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents. A certified operation may label its products or ingredients asorganic and may use the "USDA Organic" seal.
Labeling requirements are based on the percentage of organic ingredients in a product.
Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic"
Products labeled as "100 percent organic" must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients.
Products labeled "organic" must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remainingproduct ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural productsthat are not commercially available in organic form.
Products meeting the requirements for "100 percent organic" and "organic" may display these terms and the percentage of organic content ontheir principal display panel.
The USDA seal and the seal or mark of involved certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.
Foods labeled "100 percent organic" and "organic" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation.
Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients"
Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and list up to threeof the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredientsand only organic vegetables may be labeled either "soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots," or "soup made with organicvegetables."
Processed products labeled "made with organic ingredients" cannot be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizingradiation.
The percentage of organic content and the certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the principal display panel. However, the USDA sealcannot be used anywhere on the package.
Processed products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients
These products cannot use the term organic anywhere on the principal display panel. However, they may identify the specific ingredients that areorganically produced on the ingredients statement on the information panel.
Other labeling provisions
Any product labeled as organic must identify each organically produced ingredient in the ingredient statement on the information panel.
The name and address of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel.
There are no restrictions in this final rule on use of other truthful labeling claims such as "no drugs or growth hormones used," "free range," or"sustainably harvested."
Penalties for misuse of labels
A civil penalty of up to $10,000 can be levied on any person who knowingly sells or labels as organic a product that is not produced and handledin accordance with the National Organic Program's regulations.
When the new regulations become effective, organic farmers and handlers will have 18 months to adjust their growing and processingoperations and revise their product labels to conform to the new standards.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will accredit State, private, and foreign organizations or persons to become "certifying agents."Certifying agents will certify that production and handling practices meet the national standards.
Who needs to be certified?
Operations or portions of operations that produce or handle agricultural products that are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as "100percent organic," "organic," or "made with organic ingredients" or food group(s).
Who does NOT need to be certified?
Farms and handling operations that sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products. Although exempt from certification, theseproducers and handlers must abide by the national standards for organic products and may label their products as organic. Handlers, includingfinal retailers, that do not process or repackage products. Handlers that only handle products with less than 70 percent organic ingredients. Ahandling operation or portion of an operation that is a retail food establishment that processes or prepares, on the premises of theestablishment, raw and ready-to-eat food labeled organic. A handling operation that chooses to use the word organic only on the informationpanel. A handling operation that handles products that are packaged or otherwise enclosed in a container prior to being received by theoperation and remain in the same package.
How will farmers and handlers become certified?
An applicant will submit specific information to an accredited certifying agent. Information will include:
Type of operation. History of substances applied to land for the previous 3 years. Organic products being grown, raised, or processed.Applicant's organic plan, which includes practices and substances used in production. The organic plan also must describe the monitoringpractices to be performed to verify that the plan is effectively implemented, the record-keeping system, and the practices to prevent comminglingof organic and nonorganic products and to prevent contact of products with prohibited substances.
Applicants for certification will have to keep accurate post-certification records for 5 years concerning the production, harvesting, and handling ofagricultural products that are to be sold as organic.
These records should document that the operation is in compliance with the regulations and verify the information provided to the certifyingagent. Access to these records must be provided to authorized representatives of USDA, including the certifying agent.
Inspection and certification process
Certifying agents will review applications for certification eligibility. A qualified inspector will conduct an on-site inspection of the applicant'soperation. Inspections will be scheduled when the inspector can observe the practices used to produce or handle organic products and talk tosomeone knowledgeable about the operation.
The certifying agent will review the information submitted by the applicant and the inspector's report. If this information shows that the applicant iscomplying with the relevant standards and requirements, the certifying agent will grant certification and issue a certificate. Certification willremain in effect until terminated, either voluntarily or through the enforcement process.
Annual inspections will be conducted of each certified operation, and updates of information will be provided annually to the certifying agent inadvance of conducting these inspections. Certifying agents must be notified by a producer immediately of any changes affecting an operation'scompliance with the regulations, such as application of a prohibited pesticide to a field.
Compliance review and enforcement measures
The rule will permit USDA or the certifying agent to conduct unannounced inspections at any time to adequately enforce the regulations. TheOrganic Foods Production Act also requires that residue tests be performed to help in enforcement of the regulations. Certifying agents andUSDA will conduct residue tests of organically produced products when there is reason to believe that they have been contaminated withprohibited substances. If any detectable residues are present an investigation will be conducted to determine their source.
Written by: National Organic Program
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