National Organic Program

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The National Organic Program administers the Organic Seal to products that meet the requirements.
Official seal of the U.S. National Organic Program

In the United States, the National Organic Program (NOP) is the federal regulatory framework governing organic food. It is also the name of the program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsible for administering and enforcing the regulatory framework. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 required that the USDA develop national standards for organic products, and the final rule establishing the NOP was first published in the Federal Register in 2000[1] and is codified in the Code of Federal Regulations at 7 C.F.R. 205.


The NOP covers fresh and processed agricultural food products, including crops and livestock. It does cover non-food products that may be sold as organic, including natural fibers (e.g.: organic cotton). Health and beauty products (e.g.: organic shampoo) can also be labeled organic if compliant with NOP. The USDA NOP does have the authority to enforce organic standards in the realm of health and beauty products, and were encouraged to do so in a 2009 recommendation from the USDA National Organic Standards Board. While the actual law does apply to these products, enforcement remains limited in this market.[2]

The National Organic Program grew from fewer than twelve total employees in 2008 to approximately thirty in 2010. As of April 2011, it operates in three divisions: Standards, Accreditation and International Activities (AIA), and Compliance and Enforcement.[3]


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."[4] Under this act, the Secretary of Agriculture promulgated regulations establishing the National Organic Program (NOP) in 2000. It restricts the use of the term "organic" to certified organic producers (excepting growers selling under $5,000 a year, who must still comply and submit to a records audit if requested, but do not have to formally apply). Certification is handled by state, non-profit and private agencies that have been approved by the USDA (see section below).

NOP regulations cover in detail all aspects of food production, processing, delivery and retail sale. Under the NOP, farmers and food processors who wish to use the word "organic" in reference to their businesses and products, must be certified organic. Producers with annual sales not exceeding US$5,000 are exempted[5] and do not require certification (however, they must still follow NOP standards, including keeping records and submitting to a production audit if requested, and cannot use the term certified organic).

A USDA Organic seal identifies products with at least 95% organic ingredients.[6] A product that has not been certified organic by a USDA-authorized certifying agent may not bear the USDA organic seal.[7] Misuse of the USDA Organic seal on a product may lead to USDA compliance and enforcement actions, including fines up to $11,000 per violation.[7] Misuse may also lead to the suspension or revocation of the violator's organic certificate.[7]

USDA Accredited Certifying Agents[edit]

As of 2015, there are 80 USDA Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs) who are accredited and authorized by the USDA to certify organic operations as in compliance with USDA organic standards.[8] "Of these, 48 are based in the U.S. and 32 are based in foreign countries. Most certifying agents are directly accredited by the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). Twenty-one additional certifying agents are authorized through recognition agreements between the U.S. and foreign governments."[8]

According to USDA statistics, in 2012 the largest ACAs in the U.S. are CCOF Certification Services (14% of the USDA-certified organic operations in the United States), followed by Midwest Organic Services Association, Inc. (8%), Oregon Tilth (7%), and Quality Assurance International (QAI) (6%), the Washington State Department of Agriculture (6%), and the Organic Crop Improvement Association (4%).[9]

In August 2008, the NOP announced that 15 of 30 federally accredited organic certifiers had been placed on probation for various violations of USDA organic standards.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 65 FR 80548 (December 21, 2000)
  2. ^ "Organic Food" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  3. ^ "Agricultural Marketing Service - National Organic Program". 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  4. ^ Text copied from "National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances". Agricultural Marketing Service. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious?". Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  6. ^ "Organic Labeling and Marketing Information". Retrieved 2012-09-09. 
  7. ^ a b c USDA Organic Seal, United States Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program.
  8. ^ a b USDA Accredited Certifying Agents (ACAs), National Organic Program United States Department of Agriculture.
  9. ^ CCOF Once Again Tops List of NOP Organic Certifiers: USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Releases Updated List of Certified Organic Operations (April 4, 2013).
  10. ^ Reed, Matthew (June 16, 2010). Rebels for the Soil: The Rise of the Global Organic Food and Farming Movement. Taylor and Francis. p. 99. ISBN 978-1844075973. Retrieved February 18, 2015. 

External links[edit]