Farm Bureau Seeking to Clarify Questions Surrounding Organic Certification
Cook County Farm Bureau® sent the following letter to local farmers’ markets:
Farmers’ markets have sprung up throughout Cook County, and many people are enjoying the opportunity to purchase and consume fresh, local produce. However, it’s come to our attention that there is confusion about organic certification and labeling.
Products can only be labeled “organic” if they meet the following requirements:
- Produced without excluded methods (i.e. genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or sewage sludge).
- Produced using allowed substances as listed on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
- Certified by a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program-authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations.
Overall, if a grower wants to claim that its produce is organic, the grower needs to be certified by an authorized agent. If a grower is not certified, they cannot make any organic claim or use the USDA organic seal or a reasonable facsimile of the USDA organic seal. Falsely representing products as certified organic violates the law and federal regulations. Using fraudulent documents to market, label, or sell non-organic produce as organic is punishable by fines up to $11,000 for each violation. Producers who sell $5,000 or less are exempt from certification requirements.
“Private” organic certification is not available.
A searchable list of USDA National Organic Program Authorized Certifying Agencies is available at: https://organic.ams.usda.gov/integrity/Certifiers/CertifiersLocationsSearchPage.aspx
USDA National Organic Program Authorized Certifying Agencies are responsible for making sure that USDA organic products meet all organic standards. There are five steps to organic certification:
- The farm adopts organic practices, after a transition period of 36 months, selects a USDA-authorized certifying agent, and submits an application and fees to the certifying agent.
- The certifying agent reviews the application to verify that practices comply with USDA organic regulations.
- An inspector conducts an on-site inspection of the applicant’s operation.
- The certifying agent reviews the application and the inspector’s report to determine if the applicant complies with the USDA organic regulations.
- The certifying agent issues organic certificate.
During the 36-month transition period, a farm cannot represent itself as “organic” or display the USDA organic seal.
To maintain organic certification, the certified organic farm will go through an annual review and inspection process.
The organic certification process is rigorous, time consuming, and expensive. Annual certification costs vary widely depending on the certifying agent, size, type, and complexity of the farm. Certification costs may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Typically, there is an application fee, annual renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees.
We encourage you to verify that the farmers who sell organic produce at your market are certified organic by requesting a copy of their organic certificate or by visiting https://organic.ams.usda.gov/Integrity/.