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National Organic Program

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Prior to 1990, states were permitted to develop and define their own organic production and processing standards. This made organic trade difficult. More importantly, it made it difficult for consumers to understand the meaning of organic, since it varied from state to state.

This situation changed dramatically in 1990 with the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). OFPA created the National Organic Program (NOP) as a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, officially establishing organic as a system under the federal government's jurisdiction. OFPA also called for the creation of the National Organic Standards Board, a citizen advisory board responsible for advising the Secretary of Agriculture on organic standards.

The National Organic Program (NOP)

The National Organic Program (NOP) is housed in USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). As a result, some believe the organic label is just a marketing tool. It is more than that. AMS is part of the Marketing and Regulatory Programs (MRP) mission area. MRP agencies facilitate the domestic and international marketing of U.S. agricultural products and ensure the health and care of animals and plants. MRP agencies are active participants in setting national and international standards.

NOP develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products, and also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)

NOSB is a 15-person citizen advisory board that brings together volunteers from across the organic community and around the United States. It is made up of four farmers/growers, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, three consumer/public interest advocates, three environmentalists, and one USDA accredited certifying agent. Each of these individuals participates in NOSB committees, with areas of focus ranging from crops and handling to materials and livestock. 

According to the National Organic Program website, "The Organic Foods Production Act grants the NOSB sole authority to recommend adding materials to or removing materials from the National List. In general, synthetic substances are prohibited unless specifically allowed (e.g. vaccines) and non-synthetic substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited (e.g. arsenic). In addition to petitioned materials, the NOSB must review all materials every five years and recommend renewing, removing, or changing each listing."

Learn more about how decisions are made about which substances are allowed in organic and which are not.