The National Organic Program (NOP) and the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) regulations were created with help from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).
NOP regulations are meant to be uniform in nature, in order to ensure organic integrity for consumers, producers, and handlers, while at the same time remain flexible enough to work for various organic operations. For example, the regulations must ensure quality while accommodating organic agricultural products grown in varied U.S. areas, such as Oregon vs. Minnesota.
NOP regulations cover the following organic standards.
Production and Handling
NOP production and handling standards cover all manners of organic crop growing and livestock handling, along with standards associated with The National List.
General and specialty crops, including wild crops, must be grown and harvested correctly, without the use of most conventional pesticides, petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage sludge.
Livestock standards include regulations such as organic feed, origin status, zero antibiotics or growth hormones and the access to pasture rule.
Organic labeling standards can be confusing and the severity of the crime of mislabeling varies among various organic products, such as organic food, wine, body care products and textiles. The most stringent labeling regulation is the use of the USDA Organic Seal and organic wording, which may or may not be used depending upon what percentage of organically produced agricultural ingredients a product has in it.
If a business or individual knowingly labels or sells a product that bears the Organic Seal or USDA organic wording, and that product is not truly organic, a civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each offense may be charged.
Organic certification standards are designed so that various organic production and handling operations know what they need to do in order to become USDA certified organic. An operation is not accredited by NOP in particular but by a USDA-accredited certifying agent.
Businesses that sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products, retail operations, and restaurants are exempt from official certification, although these businesses must still follow proper organic production and handling standards.
One major certification policy is that all USDA certified organic applicants must submit an organic system plan to their accredited certifying agent.
Accreditation standards include the requirements one must meet in order to become a USDA-accredited certifying agent. Standards are necessary in order to make sure that all certifying agents act consistently to maintain organic integrity and to ensure that agents hold all organic clients up to the same organic standards. Beyond local accredited certifying agents, the USDA has agents in various other countries.