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USDA Renews Listing for Specific Substances in Organic Agriculture

AMS No. 105-12

Soo Kim (202) 591-5631

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2012—The National Organic Program is renewing several listings that were scheduled to expire this year for substances allowed or prohibited in organic agriculture.

The changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic regulations were initiated by recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) — a USDA-appointed citizen advisory committee — and were supported by public comments.

Organic standards are designed to allow the use of most natural substances in organic farming while prohibiting the use of most synthetic substances. The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, a component of the U.S. Department of Agriculture organic regulations, lists the exceptions to this basic rule. As the governing law requires, materials must be reviewed and renewed every five years to determine whether they should remain on the National List. Most of the substances renewed by today’s action have been on the National List since its inception in 2000.

For example, newspaper mulch has long been an effective, non-toxic method of controlling weeds. Likewise, as long as they do not contain antibiotics or other prohibited substances, electrolytes may be fed to organic livestock to replenish their salt levels. Conversely, strychnine and arsenic are examples of natural toxic substances that are prohibited in organic farming.

The National List also allows certain non-organic ingredients in organic processed products. An example is an enzyme called “rennet,” required to separate curd (semi-solid chunks) and whey (liquid) when making organic cheese.

The action, which will be published June 6 in the Federal Register ( (keyword “AMS-NOP-09-0074; NOP-09-01FR”), renews over 200 listings and makes changes to the following substances on the National List (unless otherwise noted, all renewals and changes are effective June 27, 2012):

• Only non-amidated forms of non-organic pectin, typically added to thicken jams and jellies, will be allowed when organic pectin is not commercial available.

• The listing for iodine, which is used to fortify organic foods, has been clarified.

• The allowed use of chlorine materials in organic crop production has been clarified.

• The allowed use of lignin sulfonate in organic crop production has been clarified.

• The allowed use of non-organic colors in organic processed products has been clarified. Organic colors must be used if they are commercially available.

• The allowance for streptomycin to control infections in organic apple and pear orchards has been extended until October 21, 2014.

• Effective October 21, 2012, yeast used in baked goods and other processed organic products must be organic, if commercially available and intended for human consumption.

• Effective October 21, 2012, sulfur dioxide (smoke bombs) will no longer be allowed for rodent control in organic crop production.

• Effective January 1, 2013, hops, typically used in organic beer production, must be organic.

“These changes reflect the National Organic Standards Board’s rigorous review process and feedback from organic farms, businesses, and consumer groups,” said Miles McEvoy, Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program. “The amendments to the National List will continue to allow organic farms and businesses to utilize materials that are compatible with organic principles as recommended by the board.”

The NOSB is designed by law to advise the National Organic Program on which substances should be allowed or prohibited. Made up of dedicated public volunteers appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture, board members include organic growers, handlers, environmentalists, consumer advocates, a scientist, a retailer, and a USDA-accredited certifying agent.

NOSB members use specific criteria to evaluate substances, including the need for the substance, its impacts on human health and the environment, and the availability of natural alternatives. In specific cases, the NOSB also votes to allow non-organic versions of minor ingredients if the desired form or adequate quantity or quality of the organic ingredient is not available.

Sodium nitrate, which is currently allowed under restricted conditions in organic crop production, will undergo a separate rulemaking that considers the NOSB’s recommendation to prohibit its use altogether in organic crop production. Additionally, the National Organic Program will clarify the listing for vitamins and minerals after the assessment of public comments is complete. These separate actions allow the National Organic Program to further assess the potential industry impacts of such changes.

The National Organic Program of the USDA facilitates trade and ensures integrity of organic agricultural products by consistently implementing the organic standards and enforcing compliance with the regulations.

For further information about the final rule, contact Dr. Melissa Bailey, NOP Standards Division Director, Telephone: (202) 720-3252; Fax: (202) 205-7808.


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  Last Modified Date: 06/01/2012