National Organic Program
Agricultural Marketing Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Production and marketing of agricultural products identified as
"organic " began nearly four decades ago. As consumer demand
steadily increased for organic products, production also increased.
The market value of organic agricultural products, which include
processed manufactured foods, was estimated to be $3.5 billion for
1996. However, there was considerable variation in practices,
attitudes, and philosophies of those involved in the organic
Because of these differences, organic producers recognized the
need for uniform standards. There are currently 33 private
certification agencies and 11 States that provide organic
certification. The organic industry turned to Congress for assistance
in developing national standards. A bill to create organic standards
was first introduced in 1989. That bill, the Organic Foods
Production Act (OFPA), was passed in 1990 as part of the Food,
Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act.
The OFPA mandated the Secretary of Agriculture to establish an
organic certification program for producers and handlers of
agricultural products who use organic methods. The responsibility
for developing the National Organic Program was assigned to
USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).
Support for the legislation came from all segments of the organic
industry because of a variety of problems that had been identified by
producers, sellers, and consumers of organic products.
The Secretary of Agriculture is directed to develop rules and
regulations by which the National Organic Program will be
The OFPA has three purposes:
1) To establish national standards governing the marketing of certain
agricultural products as organically produced;
2) To assure consumers that organically produced foods meet a
consistent standard; and 3) To facilitate interstate commerce in fresh
and processed food that is organically produced.
With help from consumers and representatives of the organic
industry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been working to
develop standards and regulations that will ensure that organically
labeled products purchased in the marketplace meet consistent
nationwide standards. The process of developing these standards
has been very complicated, because they may apply to all
agricultural production - fiber, produce, livestock, poultry,
processed food, etc. Also in the final analysis, organic must mean
something to consumers in the national and international
How the Program Will Operate
AMS will accredit State and private organizations or persons to
become "certifying agents." Certifying agents will certify that
production and handling practices meet the national standards. AMS
will provide oversight to ensure that the purposes of the OFPA are
accomplished. The Agency will also perform other administrative
functions such as determining the equivalency of foreign programs
for imports into the United States; participation in development of
international standards; coordination of enforcement activities with
other agencies that have responsibility for specific aspects of the
program; operation and conduct of the petition process for materials
review; and, support for the National Organic Standards Board
The OFPA called for the establishment of a NOSB to be made up
of consumers and representatives from the organic industry to advise
the Secretary of Agriculture on the development of a National List
of allowed synthetic and prohibited natural substances and any other
aspects of implementing the program. The original 14 board
members were appointed in January 1992.
The NOSB started the process of developing its recommendations
by forming subcommittees to look at major issues. Six committees
were formed: Crops Standards; Livestock and Livestock Products
Standards; Processing, Packaging, and Labeling Standards;
Accreditation; International Issues; and Materials. The NOSB has
held 13 meetings to study these issues.
In 1994 USDA held four public hearings to obtain feedback from all
segments of the organic community on what should and should not
be included in livestock and livestock products standards. Hearings
were held in Washington, DC; Denver, CO; Chicago, IL; and
USDA has prepared a proposed rule that is currently under review
by other government agencies. USDA will publish the proposed rule
in the Federal Register as soon as the clearance process is
competed. The proposed rule will provide for a public comment
period of at least 90 days.
There is considerable interest in organic standards on a global level,
both for the importation and exportation of organic products. USDA
will determine equivalency of standards on a nation-to-nation basis.
This could improve and simplify current paperwork requirements
being imposed by some nations.
What Impact Will the National Organic Program
Once a final rule for the National Organic Program is published, it
have the force of law;
accomplish the purposes of the OFPA;
assure that certifiers are certifying products to the national standards;
assure that growers and processors are producing to the national
allow the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety
Inspection Service to recognize the definition of organic as a
common and usual term with a specific meaning;
open international markets for certified organic products;
and expand consumer confidence by assuring consumers that a
product labeled as organic has been produced to the national
standard on a certified operation.
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