If you’re in the organic farming industry, you might have heard the term certified organic. What does this mean? How does this help organic products become more marketable? The National Organic Program (NOP) creates the rules and regulations for the production, handling, labeling, and enforcement of all organic-related products approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The process is a winding one and it involves inputs and suggestions from the National Organic Standards Board. This is a Federal Advisory Committee with 15 members from the public. The board also gets suggestions from the general public. The national standard set by the program and board must be adhered to by all farmers, regardless of state and size of the farm. If you want to be certified as organic, your farm must fall under the category that the committee deems to be organic.
For organic food, they must be produced without the use of conventional pesticides and insecticides, petroleum-based fertilizers, sewage-sludge-derived fertilizers, herbicides, antibiotics, bio-engineering, growth hormones, and irradiation. This means that growing food under the certification law must be made as naturally as possible.
Animals in an organic farm should have never taken antibiotics in their lives. Cows should be grass-fed. They should be free from growth hormones. The animals must meet animal health welfare standards. They must be 100% organic fed and they must be able to access outdoors. ‘
For an organic farm to be truly organic, there must be no antibiotics or substances applied to it in the past three years. That’s enough to clean the soil of any toxic materials and contaminants if it has been previously used in conventional farms.
If you see farms and products bearing the “USDA Organic” seal, this means they have been certified organic by the state or a private agency accredited by the USDA. These agencies ensure that the standards set by the NOP are being followed.
So, how does a farmer gain organic certification? The farmers need to submit an organic system plan every year. This shows that the farmer is following the NOP standards. The farms have to be inspected by an accredited agency to test the veracity of the information in the documents. They examine all elements of the farming operations—from the sourcing of materials to the harvesting process.
Be careful when buying products supposedly from organic farming practices. Not all so-called organic farms adhere to NOP standards. This means the way they grew and processed the food products are not 100% organic. Look for the USDA seal before purchasing anything organic.