Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program outlines the importance of organic farming for the U.S
The organic sector is one of the fastest-growing segments of U.S. agriculture, and consumer demand continues to increase. Today, there are more than 19,000 certified organic farms and businesses in the United States alone. Around the world, there are more than 27,000 operations in 120 countries certified to the USDA organic standards. With support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic farmers and businesses have achieved $39bn annually in U.S. retail sales. With a rigorous certification process, robust standards, and strong enforcement, the USDA Organic Seal has become the gold standard around the world.
USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), part of the Agricultural Marketing Service, protects organic integrity through a rigorous and comprehensive certification process, ensuring that all organic products comply with the organic standards. Organic operations must demonstrate that they are implementing practices that foster the cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
The USDA organic standards also describe specific production and handling requirements for farms and processors, including the use of approved substances. For example, organic products must be produced using methods that avoid genetically engineered organisms and most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics.
USDA also supports the continued growth of organics by developing clear standards that drive consumer demand for organic products. In fact, USDA continually adjusts the organic standards in order to meet the needs of the rapidly growing sector – there are new standards on the horizon related to aquaculture, pet food, apiculture (bees and honey), and enhanced animal welfare provisions.
One element of the organic standards, the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, identifies substances that may and may not be used in organic production and processing. In general, synthetic substances are prohibited unless they are specifically allowed, while non-synthetic substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is a Federal Advisory Committee that assists in the development of standards and makes recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture regarding the implementation of the organic program, including what substances should be on the National List. The board’s 15 dedicated volunteer members serve 5-year terms and represent the entire organic community – farmers/growers, handlers/processors, environmental/resource conservationists, consumer/public interest advocates, scientists, and certifying agents. The diversity and expertise of board members make the NOSB a direct link to the organic community.
USDA accredited certifying agents must verify compliance with organic standards before products can be labelled as USDA organic. Becoming a certified organic farm or processing operation is a multi-step process that requires a written Organic System Plan, annual on-site farm inspections, sampling and residue testing, and label reviews. In addition to a rigorous certification process and robust standards, USDA protects the organic label with strong oversight of organic production, processing, and distribution. From farms to retail stores, USDA conducts and coordinates investigations of suspected violations of the organic standards and takes legal action when necessary. With meaningful standards and a rigorous oversight system, consumers can be confident that the organic label deserves its reputation as a leading global standard.
Organic agriculture is a strong contributor to USDA’s goals for rural economic development, and we are committed to supporting the continued growth of the organic community by assisting organic farmers and businesses. USDA has initiated a number of new and expanded efforts to connect organic farmers and businesses with the resources they need to ensure the continued growth of the organic sector. Some programs assist organic farmers, ranchers, and handlers. Other programs are open to the general public, including organic operations.
For more information on what organic means, the certification process, organic labelling, the Organic 101 blog series and the Organic Literacy Initiative check out USDA’s one-stop-shop for information on all of our programs and opportunities for the organic community at www.usda.gov/organic .
Deputy Administrator, National Organic Program
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)