The Organic Food Production Act (OFPA), codified at 7 U.S.C. § 6501 to 6524, begins by stating that the purpose of the act is “to establish national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced products.”
It grants the Secretary of Agriculture the power to establish a certification program for producers who use organic methods, but also requires that they permit the states to implement their own organic certification program. Nebraska has yet to do so.
The OFPA sets the national standards for organic production and the basic requirements needed for something to be labeled as organic.
What does “organic” mean?
According to § 6504, for a product to be labeled as organically produced, it must meet three basic requirements:
- The product must be “produced and handled without the use of synthetic chemicals”
- “Not produced on land which any prohibited substances, including synthetic chemicals, have been applied during the three years immediately preceding the harvest of the agricultural products, and;”
- “produced and handled in compliance with an organic plan agreed to by the producer and handler of such product and certifying agent.”
If all three requirements are met, the product is eligible for organic certification. However, the requirements beg for further definition as to what exactly a syntenic chemical or organic plan is.
§ 6502 defines synthetic as “a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal or mineral sources.” The term is not applied to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes.
An organic plan means “a plan of management of an organic farming or handling operation that has been agreed to by the producer or handler and the certifying agent and that includes written plans concerning all aspects of agricultural production or handling described in this chapter including crop rotation and other practices as required under this chapter.”
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What are some prohibited practices and materials in organic production?
A skeleton of practices and materials for organic crop and animal production is outlined in § 6508-6509.
Organic crop production requires that producers do not:
- “use any fertilizers containing synthetic ingredients or commercially blended fertilizers containing materials prohibited under this chapter or under the applicable state organic certification program”
- “use as a source of nitrogen: phosphorus, lime, potash, or any materials that are in consistent with the applicable organic certification program.”
- “Use natural poisons such as arsenic or lead slats that have long-term effects and persist in the environment…”
- “Use plastic mulches, unless such mulches are removed at the end of each growing or harvest season; or”
- “use transplants that are treated with any synthetic or prohibited material.”
For livestock to be labeled as organically produced, the animal in question must be raised and treated in accordance with § 6509. However, the breeder stock may be purchased from any source if not in the last third of gestation.
The section dives into detail on specific practices on handling, feed, health care, identification and hormones for poultry and dairy livestock.
What if I label a product as organic when it is not?
§ 6519 states that “any person who knowingly sells or labels a product as organic, except in accordance with this chapter, shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000.”
Overall, if you make a product and want to claim it or its ingredients are organic, your final product should be certified. 7 CFR 205.101 creates some exemptions from certification for small operations. However, this does not give free reign to label products that are produced inorganically as “organic.” To ensure that your product passes the organic guidelines, it may be wise to check the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.