FAQ: Becoming a Certifying Agent

How do I become a USDA organic certifying agent?

Thank you for your interest in becoming a USDA-Accredited Certifying Agent (ACA) under the USDA organic regulations. We also recommend that you review our General Accreditation Practices & Procedures (NOP 2000), which includes information about the accreditation application and auditing processes.

What you must submit

For NOP to process your accreditation application, you must submit the below listed documents and a $500 fee. Please note that the $500 fee is only a small portion of the total cost of accreditation (see Costs below).

You must submit the following documents according to 7 CFR 205.503(a-e) and 205.504(a-e). Please read the full instructions at §205.503 and 504. In summary, the following items are required:

  • A list of each organizational unit (including chapters or subsidiary offices) including detailed information about the location and contact people at each unit;
  • A copy of the fee schedule for all services to be provided;
  • For a government entity, a copy of the official’s authority to conduct certification services under 7 CFR Part 205;
  • For a private entity, documentation showing the entity’s status and organizational purpose, such as articles of incorporation and by-laws or ownership or membership provisions, and its date of establishment;
  • A list of each State or foreign country in which the applicant currently certifies or proposes to certify production and handling operations and a list of each State or foreign country in which the applicant intends to certify production and handling operations;
  • Personnel information, including policies and procedures, names and position descriptions of personnel, descriptions of qualifications, and etc.;
  • Administrative policies and procedures (e.g. Quality Manual, Certification Program Manual, Standard Operating Procedures, Form and document templates, etc…);
  • Conflicts of interest (procedures for prevention; disclosure report);
  • Description of current certification activities; and
  • Other information the applicant believes may assist in our review to determine compliance to USDA organic regulations.

Send the documents above and a completed Application for Accreditation, Form TM-10CG, all via post and email to the addresses below. Do not send your check to this address.

National Organic Program
Attn: AIA Program Specialist
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Room 2648-South
Washington, DC 20250-0268
Phone: (202) 720-3252

Send the $500 check to the following address. The check should be made out to “USDA AMS Livestock Program.”

USDA, AMS Livestock Poultry and Seed Program, QAD
P.O. Box 790304
St. Louis, MO 63179-0304

Send a completed Application for Service, Form LS-109, via email to QAD.AuditService@ams.usda.gov or via fax to (720) 497-0571.

Desk Audit. The initial accreditation processes is a documentation adequacy review (a.k.a. desk audit) to evaluate the compliance of the applicant’s quality manual with NOP regulatory parameters. This process begins once a completed application is received by NOP and an auditor is assigned. This process may take up to three months.

Pre-decisional Assessment. Once NOP has determined that the desk audit is satisfactory, NOP staff conducts a pre-decisional on-site assessment to review your organization’s key activities, conduct witness inspections, interview staff and contractors and possibly review certification files. Upon a successful assessment, the NOP Accreditation Committee makes a recommendation to the AMS Administrator to approve accreditation. As noted above, NOP 2000 provides detailed information about the complete accreditation process, including on-site assessments and continued accreditation. This process may take up to six months.

Costs. A $500 deposit is due at the time of application, which is applied to the assessment costs. Additionally, NOP charges $108 per hour to prepare and conduct the desk audit, the onsite assessment, travel to the site, and to write the audit report. Additional costs include per diem (hotel, meals, and any incidentals, based on location) and travel expenses (e.g. airfare, rental vehicles and fuel, parking, tolls, and any other miscellaneous costs), if applicable. The NOP audit staff makes every effort to keep the costs as low as possible. In 2010, the average cost for the documentation adequacy review (desk audit) was $4,428. The average cost for an onsite assessment of a foreign ACA was $24,082.

Post-accreditation Requirements. Once approved, your organization will be accredited for five years. To ensure compliance, an additional on-site assessment is conducted around the two and half year mark. Renewing ACAs will have on-site assessments prior to renewal around the five year mark. These assessments are performed by the NOP and are subject to the costs described above.