December 20, 2000--Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman today 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 --
Enhancing market incentives for organic products by making product content requirements stricter before the term organic can be used on the main label, including, changing the percentage of organic ingredients in products labeled "Made with Organic Ingredients" from at least 50 percent to at least 70 percent
Providing better information for consumers by allowing manufacturers to state the exact percentage of organic ingredients on the principal display panel
Providing greater flexibility for organic farmers by simplifying requirements for composting of manure and by providing new options for dairy operations converting a whole herd to organic production
Incorporating industry standard practices by allowing wine produced with sulfur dioxide to be labeled "made with organic grapes" and adopting 5% of the EPA pesticide tolerance as the pesticide residue level above which a product cannot be sold 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 they purchase are produced, processed, and certified to consistent national organic standards. The labeling requirements of the new program apply to raw, fresh produce and processed foods that contain organic ingredients. Foods that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic will have to be produced and processed in accordance with the proposed National Organic Program standards.
Under the NOP, farm and processing operations that grow and process organic foods must be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents. A certified operation may label its products or ingredients as organic and may use the "USDA Certified 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 raw or processed products.
* Products labeled organic must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances or non-organically produced agricultural products approved in the National List.
* Products meeting the requirements to be labeled 100 percent organic and organic may display these terms on their principal display panel.
* The USDA seal and the seal or mark of involved certifying agents may appear on product packages and in advertisements.
Processed products labeled "made with organic (specified ingredients)"
* Products that contain 50-95 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic (specified ingredients)" and list up to three of the organic ingredients on the principal display panel. For example organic beef stew can be labeled stew, "made with organic beef, potatoes, and carrots."
* The certifying agent seal or mark may be used on the package. However, the USDA seal cannot be used anywhere on the package.
Processed products that contain less than 50 percent organic ingredients
* These products cannot make any organic labeling claim other than on the information panel, and in doing so, designate specific ingredients that are organically produced.
Other labeling provisions
* The package information panel of any product labeled as organic must state the actual percentage of organic ingredients and use the word "organic" to modify each organically produced ingredient.
* The name and address of the certifying agent of the final product must be displayed on the information panel.
* There are no restrictions on use of truthful labeling claims such as "pesticide free," "no drugs or growth hormones used," 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 handled in accordance with the National Organic Program^s regulations.
After the new regulations are finalized, organic farmers and handlers will be given a sufficient period of time to adjust their growing and processing operations and revise their labels to conform to the new standards.
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.