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 all the information required in 7 CFR 205.503(a-e) and 205.504(a-e), and a $500 fee. Please note that the $500 fee is only a small portion of the total cost of accreditation (see Cost below).

The following is a summary of the information that must be submitted in your application:

  • An organizational chart, of the entity applying for accreditation including detailed information about the location and primary point of contact at each unit (chapters or subsidiary offices);
  • A copy of the proposed fee schedule for all organic certification services the organization plans to provide under 7 CFR Part 205;
  • For a government entity, a copy of the official 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, etc.;
  • A list of relevant training conducted for certification staff and any proposed training to be conducted;
  • 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 the review to determine compliance with USDA organic regulations.

Send the required information and a completed Application for Accreditation, Form TM-10CG,  to the email address shown below. If your submission is too large to go through successfully due to the size of attachments, email us and we will set up a folder in the cloud for you to upload your application documents.

AIAInbox@usda.gov

Send the $500 check to the following address. The check should be made out to “USDA AMS Livestock Program.” You must send a copy of the completed LPS-109 with your check in order for it to be properly processed:

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

Send a copy of the completed Application for Service, Form LPS-109, via email to the USDA’s Quality Assessment Division at QAD.AuditService@usda.gov or via fax to (720) 497-0571. Please contact the Quality Assessment Division for any payment or billing questions.

Timeframe. The entire application and onsite assessment process for accreditation can take anywhere from 12-24 months depending on the NOP audit resources available and the outcome of each assessment (quantity of noncompliances and implementation of sufficient corrective actions). The term “noncompliance” is used to identify things that need to be completed or corrected before certification is granted.

Desk Audit. The initial accreditation process is a documentation adequacy review (a.k.a. desk audit) to evaluate the compliance of the applicant’s organic certification policies, procedures, and personnel qualifications, including organic certification experience. This process begins once a completed application is received by NOP and an auditor is assigned. The auditor will provide a cost estimate to the applicant and payment must be received by the NOP prior to the start of the audit. See Cost section below. The auditor will review the documentation and process an audit report. The NOP will issue a Notice of Noncompliance and Noncompliance Report to the applicant for issues identified during the audit. These notification documents will outline the desk audit results and a timeframe when corrective actions and/or rebuttals are due for each noncompliance. After the applicant responds and the NOP accepts all corrective actions and/or rebuttals, the application will move on to the next step – Pre-decisional On-site Assessment. If noncompliances are not sufficiently resolved, the NOP will issue a Denial of Accreditation.

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 for each scope of accreditation requested, interview staff and contractors, review certification files, and verify corrective actions for noncompliances issued from the desk audit. The auditor will provide an audit cost estimate that must be agreed upon with the applicant prior to conducting the pre-decisional on-site audit. The audit will take approximately five days. The auditor will complete an audit report. The NOP will issue a Notice of Noncompliance and Noncompliance Report to the applicant outlining the results of the on-site audit. After the applicant responds sufficiently to the noncompliances and the corrective actions and/or rebuttals are reviewed and accepted by the NOP, the NOP Accreditation Committee makes a recommendation to the NOP Deputy Administrator to approve or deny accreditation. If noncompliances are not sufficiently resolved, the NOP will issue a Denial of Accreditation. As noted above, NOP 2000 provides detailed information about the accreditation process, including on-site assessments and continued accreditation.

Cost. A $500 deposit is due at the time of application, which is applied to the assessment costs. Additionally, NOP charges $115 per hour to prepare and conduct the desk audit, perform the onsite assessment, travel to the site, write the audit reports and review corrective actions to noncompliances. 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). The average cost for a documentation adequacy review (desk audit) and onsite assessment for a foreign ACA is $30,000.

Post-accreditation Requirements. Once approved, your organization will be accredited for five years. To ensure compliance, additional onsite assessments are conducted. NOP will conduct an Initial Audit about twelve months after accreditation, and may conduct a Mid-Term Audit 30 months after accreditation is granted. Renewing ACAs will have onsite assessments prior to their five-year accreditation renewal and two or more onsite assessments during each five-year accreditation period. These assessments are performed by the NOP and are subject to the costs described above.