2002 Organic Certification Overview(includes Questions and Answers about the New Organic Standards and Livestock Management Practices Are Affected by New Organic Rule)
What Does "Organic" Mean Now?by Eric Sideman, Ph.D., Director of Technical Services, MOFGA
Beginning in October of 2002, the word 'organic' will have a different meaning than it does now. It will mean the same thing in every state of the United States, which is important to interstate trade and perhaps to supermarket customers' confidence. But that meaning will bring some changes in organic standards for farmers wishing to call their products organic, and some of those changes may be unwelcome. Those changes will be minor for most growers, but for some growers certain changes will mean significant modification of the farming practices or materials they use.
On October 21, 2002, the Final Rule of the National Organic Program (NOP) of the USDA will become fully implemented. For the most part, the USDA has done a very good job of reflecting present organic production standards in its Rule. Still, farmers and processors better become familiar with the new Rule and start adjusting to any required changes now. Certifiers will adopt the new organic standards soon. On the final implementation date, no one will be permitted to use the word 'organic' to describe an agricultural product that was not produced according to the new standards. Misusing the word 'organic' will be a federal offense that could bring a $10,000 fine per violation.
The biggest change will be for those growers who call their products organic but who have never been certified before. First of all, many such growers, since they were not certified and had no oversight, may not have had a perfectly clear picture of what organic means. Moreover, with the new Rule, any farmer or processor (handler) who has sales of organic products that total more than $5,000 must be certified. Many products you now see on Maine shelves-some made in Maine, some in other New England states-using the term organic will be affected by the Rule. Growers who gross under $5,000 in sales do not have to be certified, but they do have to grow by the standards in the USDA Rule. If they choose to sell their product to a certified processor as an ingredient, then they will have to get certified.
Changes in standards for farming practices that may affect vegetable and small fruit producers in New England include waiting periods between the application of uncomposted manure and harvesting a crop. Organic certifiers presently enforce waiting periods to manage the risk of contamination of food by E. coli. The USDA Rule includes a standard for the whole country that is 90 days for many crops and 120 days for any crop that is in direct contact with the soil, e.g., root crops and greens.
(MOFGA's rule has been 60 and 120 days, respectively, and other New England states have differed slightly.)
Related to the manure standards are standards for making compost. The USDA included restrictions on how you make compost if that compost contains manure as an ingredient.
The Department did this is to differentiate compost from manure, because well made compost has little risk of contaminating crops with E. coli. The problem is that the USDA wrote very restrictive guidelines, which, many farmers have strongly pointed out, would be impossible to implement on a farm. The Rule mandates that piles be turned five times in the first two weeks and that the initial C:N ratio be between 20:1 and 40:1. It also has restrictive guidelines on time and temperature.
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB-an advisory board to the NOP/USDA) is working right now on recommendations to amend the rule. I am confident that the compost standards in the Rule will be changed to be more practical for farmers.
However, because of rule making procedure, this will take time, and farmers are going to have to live with the compost guidelines as written in the Rule now for at least a year, while an official rule change takes place.
Fungicide and other seed treatments will not be permitted, so the exceptions to this regulation that many certifiers have been permitting will no longer be allowed. Organic seeds and planting stock are required; however, if an equivalent variety is not commercially available in organic form, then conventional will be permitted-as long as it is not treated with any pesticide or any other material that is not on the National List of Permitted Synthetics. The USDA is working on enforcement guidelines for certifiers.
The new rule regulates soil fertility management much the same as current organic certifiers do, including, where appropriate, required crop rotations, use of cover crops and application of plant and animal amendments. One change for some states in our region is that Chilean nitrate (sodium nitrate) will be permitted for up to 20% of the nitrogen requirement of a crop.
The new Rule is very restrictive concerning the use of synthetic materials. Only materials on the List of permitted synthetics will be allowed. For example, a change that will affect some certified growers is that PBO, a synthetic that was allowed by some certifiers, will no longer be permitted. The certifier and the grower must determine whether a particular product contains any synthetics. The only exception is that for pesticide formulations, a group of synthetic inert materials, called EPA List 4, will be permitted without individual listing on the national List of Permitted synthetic materials that is in the Rule. This list will be updated periodically, but until it is, no synthetic material can be used unless it is on the list-except for inerts on EPA List 4. The Organic Materials Review Institute has recently published its generic materials list with the USDA National Rule listing included. I suggest that growers become familiar with this list (at www.ams.usda.gov/nop or on the MOFGA site here). Use of a prohibited material may result in loss of the opportunity to produce organic crops for the three-year waiting period for land.
MOFGA encourages all organic producers selling crops to become certified. We will work hard to keep our low fee for small scale growers, because we feel it is a service not only to the farmers but to the customers as well. Consumers who buy from small scale growers deserve the same assurance of the organic claim as those who buy from large scale growers.
For farmers, this is the time to ask any questions and to modify any farming or processing practices that may be out of compliance. Here are some questions that I received when I spoke at the recent Agricultural Trades Show in Augusta. I will be traveling around the state to hold meetings on the subject in February and March. For dates and locations, call the MOFGA office.
General QuestionsWill we be MOFGA-certified or USDA-certified?
MOFGA will be the certifier. Producers will deal with MOFGA, fill out an application from MOFGA for certification, be inspected by a MOFGA inspector, etc. The role of the USDA is that its National Organic Program writes the standards and accredits MOFGA as a certifier.
Will we be able to keep the MOFGA Certified Logo?
Who petitions the USDA to have a material placed on the list of materials approved for organic production?
Processing QuestionsDo I need to be certified if I produce less than $5,000 of processed products?
Do I need to be certified if I want to label my product as "made with organic" ingredients?
Can I call mushrooms, honey, seedlings or any other product for which USDA has not written standards yet "organic" or use them in an organic processed product?
Compost QuestionsDo the guidelines about making compost apply to all compost?
No. The guidelines for making compost are in a subpart of the section of the Rule that deals with manure. Manure must be composted or be used according to guidelines. The guidelines are waiting periods between the application of manure and harvest of the crop (90 days for crops not in contact with soil and 120 days for crops in contact with soil, e.g., carrots, potatoes, lettuce, etc.). If you want to avoid the waiting period, then the manure must be composted according to the guidelines. There are no regulations for uncomposted plant material. So, you can compost plant material any way you want because it does not matter if it is composted or not.
Can I put manure in my perennial beds?
If buying compost from someone else, should that person get his or her compost certified?
If manure is added to a vermicompost pile, how should that compost be handled?
Will certifiers want to see compost records?
Seeds:When will organic seeds be required?
They are required now, except when commercially unavailable.
How will certifiers enforce the commercial availability exception to the organic seed requirement?
Seeds and planting stock should be handled separately from processing and livestock inputs. The NOSB recommends that certifying agents handle determinations and documentation of commercial availability through the organic farm plan requirements stated in 205.201(a)(2) and the normal verification process. The essential criteria for determining commercial availability are stated in the definition: appropriate form, quality, and quantity.
The NOSB recommends that excessive price considerations for organic seeds and planting stock should not be included at this time because no consensus has been reached to cover all regions, and because of pricing differences. The NOSB acknowledges that this may need to be reconsidered in the future if problems develop in implementation.
The NOSB recognizes that certifying agents have experience monitoring commercial availability claims for untreated seeds, including pricing and appropriate forms. The NOSB recommends that these systems be adapted to verify the availability of organic seeds and planting stock.
Because of the volume involved (many growers plant a large number of varieties and crops) and the timing of the planting cycle relative to the filing of the organic farm plan, prior approval by certifying agents should not be required. Compliance would be reviewed in the context of the organic farm plan, which is verified during the annual farm visit. A pattern of inadequate documentation and lack of good faith effort to obtain organically grown seeds and planting stock would be considered noncompliance and might result in the certifying agent requiring prior approval regarding commercial availability issues in future planting cycles.
Must organic seed be certified organic?
Does a producer with a gross income under $5,000 per year have to use organic seeds?
Does seed for forage crops have to be organic?
Do seed companies have to be certified?
Do seedlings have to be organic?
Is fish waste or conventional straw, etc., ok for field application?
Livestock Management Practices Are Affected by New Organic Ruleby Diane Schivera, Assistant Director of Technical Services for MOFGA
The new National Organic Standards have some management practices that differ from the practices that MOFGA has allowed in the past. Farmers will have to become familiar with these new requirements and begin putting them into practice before the Rule goes into effect on October 21, 2002. MOFGA will be using the new standards for the 2002 application and inspection process. Livestock growers will have to be particularly aware of the new regulations, because their products begin growing well before they are sold.
The first issue addressed in the Rule is the origin of livestock. Livestock products that are to be labeled as organic must be from animals that have been treated according to the organic standards from the last third of their gestation. This means that the mother had to have been managed organically during the last third of the offspring's time in utero. The only exceptions are poultry and dairy animals. Poultry must have organic management from at least the second day of life. Milk and milk products must be from animals that have been treated organically for at least one year prior to production of the product.
Dairy animals have their own exceptions, and sections of the exceptions are still unclear. We hope that they will be clarified by the National Organic Program shortly. I know from talking with Eric Sideman that the National Organic Standards Board will be making suggestions to the NOP (National Organic Program) to help correct this confusion. The exception that is clear is the one involving whole herd conversion. This exemption states that during the first nine months of whole herd conversion, the farmer must feed the animals at least 80% organic feed or feed that is raised on the farm that is included in the organic system plan and managed organically. This exemption refers to the feed only; other management practices must comply with organic standards. During the last three months, the feed must be totally organic. Once a herd is converted, all animals in the herd must have been managed organically from the last third of gestation.
The confusion lies with animals that are purchased to be added to the herd. The beginning statement-that milk and milk products must be from animals that have been treated organically for at least one year prior to production of the product-conflicts with the statement that once a herd is converted, all animals in the herd must be under organic management from the last third of gestation. At this point it is unclear which statement will be required for animals that are added to the herd from outside the farm.
Breeder stock may be brought into the operation any time, unless the animal is already pregnant and the young is to be considered organic. Then, the animal must be brought onto the farm on or before the last third of gestation. Any animal taken off the organic operation and moved to a non-organic one is not to be labeled as organically produced. Livestock farmers must keep sufficient records to guarantee the identity and treatment of each animal on the farm. Livestock must feed on pasture and forages that are organically produced. Ruminant animals must receive a substantial portion of their nutrients from pasture during the grazing season. Any feed supplements and additives must not be given in amounts above the level needed for adequate nutrition, and of these materials, all nonsynthetic substances are allowed except those listed in the standards and only those synthetic substances listed are allowed.
One feed supplement that is important for livestock producers to be aware of is milk replacer. No nonmilk products (such as soy and grain-based products) or products containing rBST are allowed for livestock that are to be considered organic. Vitamin and mineral supplements and probiotics are generally allowed. If you are concerned about a specific product, please contact the MOFGA office.
When you complete your application for certification, your responses to questions about health care must describe what preventive methods you are using. These methods will include, for example, how you balance the animal's rations to meet its nutritional needs, how you provide opportunity for exercise, and how you rotate pastures to control parasite infestations. You must also include methods that are used when these preventive practices prove inadequate. Medications that are permitted are listed in the standards. The only parasiticide that is allowed is Ivermectin. It is acceptable only prior to the last third of gestation in breeder stock, and a 90-day withdrawal period is required for dairy animals. It also cannot be administered on a routine basis.
The living conditions of livestock are also specified in the standards. All species of livestock must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and sunlight at all times. The only exceptions for temporary confinement are conditions such as inclement weather or the stage of an animal's production or a health condition. As mentioned earlier all ruminants must have access to pasture.
If you have any questions or are using material that you think should be considered as a permitted synthetic, such as cleaning products, please contact the MOFGA office.