From the Fields…Organic Standards

From the Fields…Organic Standards

By Jim Morrison

By Jim Morrison

Extension Educator, Crop Systems

University of Illinois Rockford Extension Center

The USDA has announced the final national standards for the production, handling and processing of organically grown agricultural products. This is about a decade after Congress first ordered consumer-friendly labels on fruits, vegetables and meats grown without pesticides and hormones. The new organic standard offers a definition for the term “organic.” In addition, it details various factors that can be used in the producing and handling of organic crops and livestock plus processed products. The standard also establishes organic labeling criteria. Organic farming is one of the fastest-growing segments of United States agriculture during the 1990s. USDA estimates that the value of retail sales of organic foods in 1999 was approximately $6 billion. The number of organic farmers is increasing by about 12 percent per year and now stands at about 12,200 nationwide, most of them small-scale producers.

According to a recent USDA study, certified organic cropland more than doubled from 1992 to 1997. Two organic livestock sectors, eggs and dairy, grew even faster.

As a result of the organic standard, all agricultural products labeled organic must originate from farms or handling operations certified by a state or private agency accredited by USDA. Farms and handling operations that sell less than $5,000 worth per year of organic agricultural products are exempt from certification. Farmers and handlers have 18 months to comply with the national standards.

The final standard includes several changes from the proposed rule issued in March. These include enhancing market incentives for organic products and providing better information for consumers by allowing manufacturers to state the exact percentage of organic ingredients on the display panel. In addition, the standard provides greater flexibility for organic farmers and incorporates industry standard practices.

Consumers will begin to see new organic labeling on products in the local grocery stores by the summer of 2001, with full implementation by mid-2002.

Additional information and details are available on the web at HYPERLINK http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop.

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