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Certified Organic

Organic Sound and Sensible Project - What Does "Organic" Mean

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook
USDA – what does Organic mean

As we continue our organic journey perhaps what is most important is to understand what does organic mean. The USDA National Organic Program – Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Marketing Service 7CPR Part 205 National Organic Program Final Rule defines Organic Production as a system that is managed to respond to site specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological and mechanical process that fosters cycling of resources that promotes ecological balance and conserves biodiversity. The Oxford Dictionary defines Organic as “(of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides or other artificial agents.  

Now that we have a better understanding of what Organic really is, how does one become certified organic? First and foremost the USDA is the go to source in the U.S. for organic certifications and perhaps even organic standards. They have a plethora of information and resources for becoming certified and organic resources in general. So we went to the USDA website for more information and clarity about the topic.

There are essentially 2 types of organic producers: the one that must be certified in order to make organic claims and the producer that is exempt from having to be certified in order to make certification claims. Both must follow regulations and standards in order to make claims of being organic and both can be fined for not following the standards and regulations set forth by the USDA. The distinction between the 2 organic producers is that those producers grossing over $5,000 in annual sales from organic products are required to be certified and once certified can use the USDA certification seal. On the other hand, those producers grossing less than $5,000 in annual sales from organic products are exempt from being certified and may not use the USDA certification seal. However, they may elect to become certified if they choose. Exempt companies can make organic claims but should detail in the ingredients which ingredients are organic and which are not.

How to Become Certified Organic

Certifiers are responsible for making sure that USDA organic products meet all organic standards. There are five basic steps to organic certification:

  1. The farm or business adopts organic practices, selects a USDA-accredited certifying agent, and submits an application and fees to the certifying agent.
  2. The certifying agent reviews the application to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
  3. An inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation.
  4. The certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.
  5. The certifying agent issues organic certificate.

To maintain organic certification, your certified organic farm or business will go through an annual review and inspection process.

Is There a Transition Period?

Yes. Any land used to produce raw organic commodities must not have had prohibited substances applied to it for the past three years. Until the full 36-month transition period is met, you may not:

  • Sell, label, or represent the product as “organic”
  • Use the USDA organic or certifying agent’s seal

USDA provides technical and financial assistance during the transition period through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Or, access a variety of funding options, conservation programs, and other programs and services for the organic sector on the USDA Organic Portal.

Again the USDA website is rich with resources and information about Organic Production. Here are a few resources that stood out to us if you are interested in becoming certified organic or interested in how your food is certified and labeled Organic:

  1. The Road to Organic Certification
  2. What is Organic Certification
  3. Organic System Plan
  4. Organic System Plan Template

What did you learn about your food labels? How does this change what you know about Organic products? How does this change how you consume products? What does this information mean to your health and the health of your family? What are 3 things you can begin to do this week to change your diet and consequently improve your health? How will this change your relationship with your doctors and the medicine you consume? How are we connected to nature at large? Share your comments with the community by posting them below. Share the wealth of health with your friends and family by sharing this article with 3 people today. As always you are the best part of what we do. Stay healthy!

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