Industry leaders agree that the success of the organic produce industry depends on the establishment of valid, uniform certification standards because certification standards assure customers of the authenticity of the product as well as protect legitimate organic producers.
A standard definition of “organic” is the first stage in establishing uniform certification standards. With this in mind, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association recently formed a task force consisting of representatives from the organic and agriculture Industry to establish such a definition. The definition as finally approved contains six parts:
- Organic food production systems are based on farm management practices that replenish and maintain soil fertility by providing optimal conditions for soil biological activity.
- Organic food is food that has been determined by an independent third-party certification program to by produced in accordance with a nationally approved list of materials and practices.
- Organic food is documented and verified by an accurate and comprehensive record of the production and handling system.
- Only nationally approved materials have been used on the land and crops for at least three years before harvest.
- Organic food has been grown, harvested, preserved, processed, stored, transported and marketed in accordance with nationally approved materials and practices.
- Organic food meets all local, state and federal regulations governing the safety and quality of the food supply.
The group expects that the definition may be attached to future federal organic legislation.
On Oct. 5, 1990, a conference committee, working out differences between the House and Senate versions of the 1990 Farm Bill, agreed to accept the House provisions of an organic bill that requires minimum standards for the production, certification, and labeling of organic foods. This legislation, officially signed on November 28, is included as TITLE in the new farm bill. A USDA analysis of farm bill costs indicated the organic legislation program will cost $85 million to administer over five years. The final version calls for:
- National standards for labeling and certification of foods labeled as organic. Any organic label would have to meet federal standards.
- Creation of a 15-member National Organic Standards Board that would approve production inputs and create a national list of approved production substances.
- Establishment of minimum standards for organic production and practices, including prohibition of synthetic chemicals, and the requirement that prohibited substances and practices be discontinued for three years prior to organic certification.
- Any organic program would have to provide for residue testing and on-site inspections. EPA and health authorities would be notified of any residue violations. User fees could be collected to pay for testing.
- Allows the assessment of fees for organic growers by certifying agents. Also, states could add requirements, and could certify parts of a farm as organic.
- States could pass additional organic requirements if they are consistent with federal law, approved by USDA, and do not discriminate against produce from other states.
- Penalties of not more than $10,000 for any person who violates provisions of this legislation.
For additional information concerning TITLE XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill (Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990), call or write the authors of this handbook at the address provided in the Information Sourcessection.
According to a report released in June of 1989 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (2), states are leading the effort in promoting and establishing organic definitions and certification standards. The center’s study reports that 16 states have passed laws defining “organic” for labeling purposes. Those states are Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California and Texas. Of these 16, five states (Texas, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont) have state supported staffs or inspection programs to certify organic farms. The following table summarizes important elements of existing state organic certification standards.
Elements of State Organic labeling
Texas has the state agriculture department certify Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) program is a voluntary marketing and regulatory program that promotes the production and sale of Texas-grown organic food by certifying producers, processors, distributors and retailers who meet the strict growing and handling standards. In order to become certified under TDA’s program, farmers, ranchers, processors, distributors and retailers agree to comply with organic standards adopted May 26, 1988 in the Texas Administrative Code Part L Title 4, Chapter 18.
The first step in obtaining certification is to fill out an application and return it with required soil and water test results. According to TDA, most applications are reviewed within a month of receipt. TDA reviews applications and schedules inspections of farms. An inspector from the department reviews soil and water tests, crop histories, production and rotation plans, fertilizer receipts and other records. If a farm passes inspection it is awarded certification for 1 year, during which the farm remains subject to unannounced visits. TDA verifies compliance of the standards through annual and spot inspections, affidavits and recordkeeping requirements. In return, TDA helps market certified food which bears TDA’s green and yellow “Certified Organic” logo both in Texas and out of state. These marketing programs include media events, radio and TV ads, trade shows and point-of-purchase demonstrations.
TDA’s program differs from other certification programs in the country in several aspects. The standards include several consumer-protecting details since consumers helped write the standards. The program has a 3-year conversion period from non-organic to certified organic production, which is three times as long as the current California law. Stricter standards give Texas farmers a competitive advantage and often translate into premium prices. The program also gives farmers a unique incentive to convert their farms to organic since growers who meet all standards except the 3-year withdrawal period may sell their product under a blue and yellow TDA ‘Transitional Organic logo while they wait for official certification. However, transitional produce is stirring some debate in the industry. Growers should be aware that some organic buyers will take transitional only if certified produce is not available. The following is a complete package of TDA’s certification program including standards, applications, affidavits and input reports.
- Traupman, Michael. “Congress Eyes National Organic Law.” The New FarmFeb. 1990:40-43.
- Waterfield, “States Leading Organic Effort.” The Packer 1 July 1989.