National Organic Program: What Agricultural Professionals Need to Know

eOrganic authors:

Brian Baker, Organic Materials Review Institute

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

The National Organic Program (NOP) final rule (United States Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2000) was established to set and enforce uniform standards for producing and handling agricultural and processed food products labeled as organic. The most up-to-date text of the NOP final rule can be found, via the NOP website, on the electronic Code of Federal Regulations website. In addition, official copies can be purchased from the Federal Register by calling (202) 512-1800.

Selected Key Provisions of the NOP Rule

(Appropriate sections of 7 CFR 205 are given in parentheses)

  • Most producers and handlers of organic food must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent. (§205.100)
  • Producers and processors with organic sales under $5,000/year are exempt from certification, but must comply with all other applicable provisions. (§205.101)
  • Most synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, animal drugs, feed additives, and other synthetic inputs are prohibited in production; those that are allowed may be used only with restrictions. (§205.105)
  • Sewage sludge (biosolids), irradiation, and genetic engineering (excluded methods) are prohibited. (§205.105)
  • Organic producers must maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality. (§205.200)
  • Organic producers and handlers must prepare an Organic System Plan that the certifier must review, evaluate, and approve. (§205.201)
  • Organic producers and handlers must maintain records for at least 5 years. The records must disclose all activities and transactions, and demonstrate compliance. Records must be made available to the certifying agent for review. (§205.103)
  • Land cannot be certified as organic until three years after the date of the last application of a prohibited material. (§205.202)
  • Producers are required to maintain and improve the condition of the soil through tillage, cultivation practices, and the management of crop nutrients. (§205.203)
  • The use of raw manure is restricted, and manure that is made into compost must meet specific processing requirements. (v205.203)
  • Organic seeds must be planted unless they are not commercially available in the variety needed by the producer. (§205.204)
  • All synthetic seed treatments are prohibited, unless successfully petitioned and added to the national list. Naturally occurring mineral, biological, or botanical substances may be used as seed treatments. (§205.204)
  • Producers and handlers need to implement and document proactive and preventative pest, weed, and disease management practices before they can use approved non-synthetic botanical, biological, or mineral pesticides, or approved substances that appear on the national list. (§205.206)
  • Livestock used to produce organic animal products must be under continuous organic production from the last third of gestation, with exceptions for poultry, converting dairy cows, and breeder stock. (§205.236)
  • Cloned animals, their progeny, and products are not allowed. (§205.2 - definition of "excluded methods")
  • Animals must be fed organic feed made from organic agricultural feedstuffs, and additives and supplements that are either natural (non-synthetic) or explicitly allowed on the national list. (§205.237)
  • Animal drugs, other than vaccines, cannot be administered in the absence of illness. (§205.238)
  • Antibiotics are prohibited. (§205.238)
  • A producer must not withhold treatment in order to preserve an animal's organic status—all appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal's health. Animals and products from animals treated with prohibited substances must not be sold as organic. (§205.238)
  • The feeding of slaughter by-products and feeds containing urea or manure are prohibited. (§205.237)
  • Livestock must have access to the outdoors with only temporary exceptions, and ruminants must have access to pasture. (§205.239)
  • Organic food may only be processed using mechanical or biological methods and must consist of organic ingredients and approved non-organic ingredients and processing aids that appear on the national list. (§205.270)
  • Organic food must be handled in a way that avoids commingling with non-organic ingredients and contamination by prohibited substances. (§205.272)
  • Food labeled as "100% organic" must contain 100% organic ingredients and processing aids. Food labeled as "organic" must contain at least 95% organic ingredients and meet other specific requirements. Food labeled as "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, and meet other specific requirements. (§205.300–§205.311)
  • State and private organic certification programs are accredited by the USDA to certify organic crops, livestock, and handling operations that comply with the program’s requirements. (§205.500–§205.510)
  • State and Federal authorities share enforcement responsibilities. (§205.620–§205.622)
  • Residues of prohibited pesticides that result from unavoidable contamination must be limited to less than 5% of EPA Tolerance, in order for the food to be sold as organic. (§205.671)

References and Citations


Published January 18, 2009

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.