This article needs to be updated.(November 2010)
The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) (Title 21 of Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, codified at 7 U.S.C. ch. 94, 7 U.S.C. § 6501 et seq.) authorizes a National Organic Program (NOP) to be administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The program will be based on federal regulations that define standard organic farming practices and on a National List of acceptable organic production inputs. Private and state certifiers will visit producers, processors, and handlers to certify' that their operations abide by the standards. Once certified, these operations may affix a label on their product stating that it "Meets USDA Organic Requirements." It will be illegal for anyone to use the word "organic" on a product if it does not meet the standards set in the law and regulations. The regulations under the OFPA are intended to set uniform minimum standards for organic production. However, states may adopt additional requirements after review and approval by USDA. AMS will re-accredit certifying agents every 5 years, maintain federal oversight to assure truth in labeling, and provide assurance that imported organic products have been produced under standards that are equivalent to the U.S. standards.
The act called for the establishment of a 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to "assist in the development of standards for substances to be used in organic production" (i.e., the National List) and to "provide recommendations to the Secretary regarding implementation" of the act. Congress expected implementation to be complete and the program in operation by October 1, 1993. However, the Board was hampered at the beginning by a lack of funds, among other factors. Neither departmental nor appropriated funds were available in FY1991; in FY1992 and FY1993, USDA made $120,000 available under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Beginning in FY1994, Congress appropriated funds for AMS's National Organic Program activities at about $500,000 annually. The FY1999 Administration budget requests slightly more than $1 million to assist the implementation of the new program. The OFPA stipulates that the costs of the program, once fully operational, will be paid for entirely by fees collected from producers, certifying agents, and handlers.
During the period from June 1994 to September 1996, the NOSB submitted its recommendations for national standards and the National List to USDA's National Organic Program staff. The staff drafted the proposed rule based on the Board's recommendations but not in complete conformity with them. The proposed rule appeared in the Federal Register on December 16, 1997. Because of the heavy response to the proposal, USDA extended the comment period from mid-March through the end of April 1998.
The organic certification process makes sure that growers and handlers that claim to be organic are abiding by strict laws and regulations set by the Organic Foods Production Act. It focuses on the methods and materials used by producers. Everyone, from producers to handlers of organic products, must be certified to sell products labeled as "organic". There are two exceptions to this rule. Growers whose gross income is less than $5,000 and retailers are excused from certification. Producers may also apply for a split operation if only a part of the operation is organic. In this case there must be a clear separation of the different sections and separate records must be kept.
Certification begins with the submission of an Organic System Plan to a USDA-accredited certification program. The Organic System Plan requires detailed growing, handling and materials procedures and at least five years of records. Annual on-site inspections confirm production operations and fees are collected to pay for the certification program.
For crops to be certified organic they must follow strict guidelines:
Livestock standards are implemented to maintain both organic standards for consumers and good living conditions for the animals. In order for livestock to be certified organic it must:
Organic agriculture aims to optimize the health and productivity of soil life, plants, animals and people. For this to happen, processors, labelers and packagers of these organic products must be responsible for following regulations that keep the integrity of the food they deal with. During the processing of the food, there are specific additives that are prohibited. These are detailed in the National List, whose purpose is to clarify exactly which materials are acceptable and not acceptable throughout the organic food process. Strict rules for packaging state that organic products cannot be packaged in anything that contains or has been in contact with synthetic fungicides, fumigants, and preservatives.
In order for a processed food to be labeled organic, its handler must be certified organic and ninety-five percent of its ingredients must be produced organically. This percentage is determined by the weight of the final product, excluding water and salt. The Secretary of Agriculture establishes whether imported foods may be labeled organic based on whether they have followed regulations that meet the standards of the National Organic Program.
Congress passed the Act in response to requests and petitions from several organic industry groups as well as from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest:
These groups gave a variety of reasons for seeking federal regulation.