Agriculture: Organic Farming

"Organically grown" food is food grown and processed using no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Pesticides derived from natural sources (such as biological pesticides) may be used in producing organically grown food.

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Organic production has been practiced in the United States since the late 1940s. From that time, the industry has grown from experimental garden plots to large farms with surplus products sold under a special organic label. Food manufacturers have developed organic processed products and many retail marketing chains specialize in the sale of "organic" products. This growth stimulated a need for verification that products are indeed produced according to certain standards. Thus, the organic certification industry also evolved.

More than 40 private organizations and state agencies (certifiers) currently certify organic food, but their standards for growing and labeling organic food may differ. For example, some agencies may permit or prohibit different pesticides or fertilizers in growing organic food. In addition, the language contained in seals, labels, and logos approved by organic certifiers may differ. By the late 1980s, after an attempt to develop a consensus of production and certification standards, the organic industry petitioned Congress to draft the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) defining "organic". 

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National Organic Program

The National Organic Program (NOP) is a marketing program housed within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service, the agency that sets marketing standards. The NOP mission is to develop and implement national standards that govern the marketing of agricultural products as organically produced, to facilitate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced, and to assure consumers that such products meet consistent standards.

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 requires the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.  This list identifies synthetic substances that may be used, and the non-synthetic substances that cannot be used, in organic production and handling operations.

More information from USDA
More information from other organizations

Guidance for labeling pesticides under the National Organics Program

The Final Guidance on Labeling Pesticide Products Under the National Organic Program (January 31, 2003) describes how registrants can obtain EPA approval of label language. Approved label language for all pesticide ingredients (active and inert) and all uses of that pesticide must meet the criteria defined in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) Rule.

The guidance provides an example of acceptable label language and the procedures for adding such identification to product labels. The information on the pesticide label will assist organic growers and those persons certifying organic production methods in knowing which pesticide products meet the requirements of the NOP Rule for use in organic agriculture.

More information from EPA

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Other organic farming linksThe following links exit the site Exit

  • eOrganic: Organic Agriculture
    This resource, created by the eOrganic Community of Practice, is for farmers, ranchers, agricultural professionals, certifiers, researchers and educators. It provides reliable information on organic agriculture, published research results, farmer experiences, and certification. eOrganic is funded by CSREES Integrated Organic Program (IOP) and eXtension.
  • The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) is an affiliation of seven state chapters and provides educational conferences, workshops, farm tours and printed materials to educate farmers, gardeners, consumers and land care professionals.

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