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Organic Farming

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"Organically grown" food is food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides derived from natural sources (such as biological pesticides) may be used in producing organically grown food.

Related topics
Biopesticides
Integrated Pest Management
Pollution Prevention, Best Management Practices, and Conservation
Sustainability

Related publications from the Ag Center
Biopesticides
Integrated Pest Management
Organic Farming
Pollution Prevention, Best Management Practices, and Conservation
Sustainability

EPA grants available to reduce pesticide use
PestWise (formerly Strategic Agricultural Initiative) Grants


Background

Organic production has been practiced in the United States since the late 1940s. From that time, the industry has grown from experimental garden plots to large farms with surplus products sold under a special organic label. Food manufacturers have developed organic processed products and many retail marketing chains specialize in the sale of "organic" products. This growth stimulated a need for verification that products are indeed produced according to certain standards. Thus, the organic certification industry also evolved.

More than 40 private organizations and state agencies (certifiers) currently certify organic food, but their standards for growing and labeling organic food may differ. For example, some agencies may permit or prohibit different pesticides or fertilizers in growing organic food. In addition, the language contained in seals, labels, and logos approved by organic certifiers may differ. By the late 1980s, after an attempt to develop a consensus of production and certification standards, the organic industry petitioned Congress to draft the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) defining "organic". 

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National Organic Program

The National Organic Program (NOP) is a marketing program housed within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service, the agency that sets marketing standards. The NOP mission is to develop and implement national standards that govern the marketing of agricultural products as organically produced, to facilitate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced, and to assure consumers that such products meet consistent standards.

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances which identifies synthetic substances that may be used, and the nonsynthetic substances that cannot be used, in organic production and handling operations.

More information from USDA
National Organic Program
USDA Accredited Certifying Agents
National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances

More information from other organizations
National Organic Program Compliance Checklist for Producers Exit EPA

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National Standards on Organic Agricultural Production and Handling

The National Standards on Organic Agricultural Production and Handling (NOP rule) was issued on December 21, 2000, by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.  The standards in the NOP rule are similar to most of the standards organic producers and handlers currently use, and are intended to be flexible enough to accommodate the wide range of operations and products grown and raised in every region of the United States. The Organic Foods Production Act and the NOP rule require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a state or private agency that has been accredited by USDA. Neither the Organic Foods Production Act nor the NOP rule address food safety or nutrition.

Food labels must be in compliance by early 2001.

The NOP rule prohibits the use of genetic engineering (included in the list of excluded methods), ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge. The rule includes the following:

More information from USDA
National Organic Standards Regulations (English)
National Organic Program Handbook
NOP Organic Production and Handling Standards (PDF) (English) (2 pp, 72K)
NOP Organic Production and Handling Standards (PDF) (Spanish) (2 pp, 29K)

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Organic Foods Production Act

The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) of 1990, adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill, requires the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products to assure consumers that agricultural products marketed as organic meet consistent, uniform standards. The Act also requires USDA to establish an organic certification program based on recommendations of a 15-member National Organic Standards Board. In addition to the Board's recommendations,  USDA reviewed state, private, and foreign organic certification programs to help formulate the final organic regulations. 

More information from USDA
Organic Foods Production Act of 1990
National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)

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Organic Production and Handling Standards

The National Organic Program (NOP) final rule contains regulations that will ensure that organically labeled products meet consistent national standards.

More information from USDA
Understanding Organic Labeling
National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances
National List Petition Process
NOSB Policy and Procedures Manual
National List Materials Review Process (PDF) (1 pg, 78K)  
National Organic Program

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Guidance for Labeling Pesticides Under the National Organic Program

EPA issued the Final Guidance on Labeling Pesticide Products Under National Organic Program on January 31, 2003. The guidance describes how registrants can obtain EPA approval of label language indicating that all ingredients (active and inert) in a pesticide product and all uses of that pesticide meet the criteria defined in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) Rule.

The guidance provides an example of acceptable label language and the procedures for adding such identification to product labels. The information on the pesticide label will assist organic growers and those persons certifying organic production methods in knowing which pesticide products meet the requirements of the NOP Rule for use in organic agriculture.

More information from EPA
Labeling of Pesticide Products under the National Organic Program (PR Notice 2003-1) (PDF) (12 pp, 73K)
July 16, 2009: Clarification of PR Notice 2003-1
March 5, 2003: Federal Register notice

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Other Organic Farming Links

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