USDA is committed to helping organic agriculture grow and thrive. To help meet Secretary Vilsack's goal of increasing the number of certified organic operations, USDA is delivering results through its many programs which serve the growing organic sector. October 2012 marked the 10th anniversary of the USDA Organic Seal, and we are proud that it has become a leading global standard.
What is Organic Agriculture?
Organic agriculture produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. USDA organic standards describe how farmers grow crops and raise livestock and which materials they may use.
Organic farmers, ranchers, and food processors follow a defined set of standards to produce organic food and fiber. Congress described general organic principles in the Organic Foods Production Act, and the USDA defines specific organic standards. These standards cover the product from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives.
Organic farms and processors:
- Preserve natural resources and biodiversity
- Support animal health and welfare
- Provide access to the outdoors so that animals can exercise their natural behaviors
- Only use approved materials
- Do not use genetically modified ingredients
- Receive annual onsite inspections
- Separate organic food from non-organic food
Organic Certification Benefits Farms and Businesses
Over 25,000 farmers, ranchers and other businesses get many benefits from USDA organic certification. Many receive premium prices for their products through the growing $35 billion U.S. organic retail market. Most operations that grow, handle, or process organic products-and want to call their products organic-must be certified.
Organic Certification Benefits Consumers
USDA has strengthened its oversight of organic products, using methods such as inspections and residue testing to ensure the integrity of organic products from farm to market. We've created a level playing field by developing clear standards, investigating consumer complaints, and taking action against farmers and businesses that violate the law.
USDA Supports Organic Agriculture
In addition to setting the standards for U.S. organic products, USDA supports organic agriculture in all of its agencies. In May 2013, Secretary Vilsack issued new Guidance on Organic Agriculture, Marketing and Industry (PDF, 96KB) directing all USDA agencies to support organic agriculture and markets. USDA offers a wide variety of funding opportunities, including conservation grants, organic crop insurance, and simplified microloans. To learn more about USDA programs and how they support organic agriculture, view the USDA's Organic Resource Guide (PDF, 1.8MB).
Trade partnerships streamline organic exports and imports with other countries, increasing the market share of organic products worldwide while maintaining rigorous production standards. Additionally, foreign products certified to the USDA organic standards can access the U.S. market. USDA also provides current prices for organic apples and other market information, funds research at public and private institutions, and provides practical advice to farmers and ranchers.
Overall, USDA oversees organic farmers and businesses to make sure that organic food is produced with organic methods. Each year, organic farmers update a farm plan and complete an inspection to confirm that their practices match their records. The farmer must correct any issues to continue certification. Organic food processors meet similar requirements.
If you are concerned that an organic product isn't meeting the USDA standards, you can submit a complaint to the USDA. We investigate every complaint we receive, and if we find any problems we take action. Anyone can file a complaint by contacting the USDA.
Have Feedback on the Organic Standards?
Public comments are an important part of developing sound and sensible policies for organic farmers, ranchers, and food processors. The USDA holds two public meetings each year on behalf of its citizen advisory committee, the National Organic Standards Board, to hear a wide range of perspectives from our organic stakeholders. To be notified of public comment opportunities and other updates, subscribe to the USDA Organic Insider.