The National Organic Program (NOP)

  • Date: April 27, 2011
  • Source: Admin
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According to the OFPA and the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations, agricultural products labeled as organic should originate from farms and the handling operations should be certified by a USDA accredited entity.
NOP Regulations
1.        Production and handling standards: Theseaddress organic crop production, wild crop harvesting, organic livestock management, and processing and handling of organic agricultural products. As a general rule, all natural (non-synthetic) substances are allowed in organic production and all synthetic substances are prohibited.
  • Organic crops are raised without using most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, or sewage sludge-based fertilizers.                                                                    
  • Animals raised on an organic operation must be fed organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  
2.        Labeling standards: These are based on the percentage of organic ingredients present in a product.
  • Products labeled "100 percent organic" must contain only organically produced ingredients.
  • Products labeled "organic" must consist of organically produced ingredients at least to the extent of 95 percent.
  • Products meeting the requirements for "100 percent organic" and "organic" may display the USDA Organic seal.
  • Processed products that contain organic ingredients at least to the extent of 70 percent can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.
  • Processed products that contain less than 70 percent organic ingredients cannot use the term “organic” other than to identify the specific ingredients that are organically produced in the ingredients statement.
  • Violation of these standards can attract civil penalties up to USD 11,000. 
3.        Certification standards: These standardsestablish the requirements that organic production and handling operations must meet to gain accreditation from USDA-accredited certifying agents. The certification standards also address on-site inspections. Producers and handling (processing) operations that sell less than USD 5,000 a year in organic agricultural products are exempt from certification. They may label their products organic if they abide by the standards but they cannot display the USDA Organic seal. Retail operations, such as grocery stores and restaurants, do not have to be certified.
4.        Accreditation standards: These standardsestablish the requirements an applicant must meet in order to become a USDA-accredited certifying agent. The standards are designed to ensure that all organic certifying agents act consistently and impartially. Imported agricultural products may be sold in the United States if they are certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents. Imported products must meet the NOP standards. USDA has accredited certifying agents in several foreign countries.
Accreditation Process
The steps to be taken to become a certified organic producer are as follows:
1.        Identify a suitable certifier: Organic certification agencies must be accredited by the National Organic Program. Certifiers work as an extension of the federal government. Criteria to use in evaluating a certifier should include:
  •   Their willingness and ability to answer questions about their certification program.
  •  Membership in prominent and valuable organizations such as OTA and OMRI.
  • Their history in certifying enterprises.
  • The certifier’s stability as a business.
  • Additional certification services they offer (e.g., Kosher, Free Farmed, etc.).
  • Market recognition of the certifier logo.
  • Additional accreditation beyond the NOP by international certification bodies such as IFOAM
  • Costs of certification.
2.        Submit an application: The producer should request a copy of the certifier’s organic standards and an application packet, which typically includes an organic farm plan questionnaire. An application fee is commonly requested at this stage. The producer must complete the questionnaire. Farm maps will be required along with crop and input histories for all fields. Strategies to prevent contamination with prohibited substances and non-organic products must be outlined. The farm plan questionnaire will also elicit information on the producer’s plans to monitor the farm operation to insure compliance. The producer will have to sign a licensing agreement with the certifier.
3.        Completeness review: The certifier reviews the organic farm plan application to be certain that it is complete and that the operations are in compliance with NOP organic standards. If additional information is required, the producer will be asked to submit it.
4.        On-farm inspection: If the organic farm plans application is judged to be complete, the certifier assigns an organic inspector to inspect all the relevant areas of the farm. The inspector looks for all indications that the producer is operating according to their organic plan and is in compliance with organic standards. The inspector reviews all written records documenting management practices, seed sources, inputs used, compost production, conventional production done on the farm, and records of harvest, storage, transportation, and sales. An inspection affidavit is completed during the inspection and signed by the producer and the inspector. The inspector reviews with the producer all identified non-compliance issues at the end of the inspection. Finally, the inspector submits a detailed report to the certifier on all findings.
5.        Final review: The organic farm plan application and inspection report is reviewed by an individual or certification committee with expertise in organic farming and certification standards. There can be several outcomes of the review:
  • Approval for organic certification: The producer is free to use the seal of the certifier and also the USDA’s organic seal.
  • Notification of noncompliance: Noncompliance issues often involve inadequate records of such things as manure applications, equipment cleaning on farms where conventional production is also done, and compost preparation.
  • Denial of certification: A denial of certification is typically given when the certifier judges that the producer is clearly unable to comply with federal organic regulations. At this time, producers may not use “organic,” “transitional,” “transition to organic,” or any similar terminology to describe and market production from fields or farms in transition.
Fees for Organic Certification
Certification costs could rise. Certifiers must bear the added costs of USDA accreditation in such cases. In some instances, certifying bodies have had to undergo serious reorganization to continue providing certification services. These costs are passed on to producers and handlers in the form of higher fees. The NOP initially estimated that certification costs would average approximately USD 750 per farm. However, fees charged for certification vary among agents. Fees also vary with the size and complexity of the farm operation, the costs of inspection, and other factors.


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