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Organic 101: Strengthening Organic Integrity through Increased Residue Testing

Posted by Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Deputy Administrator in Food and Nutrition Trade
Feb 21, 2017
From produce, like these vine-ripened tomatoes, to processed foods like cheese and milk, additional testing requirements will help certifying agents identify cases where prohibited methods and substances are being used. Photo courtesy Jess Sanson.
From produce, like these vine-ripened tomatoes, to processed foods like cheese and milk, additional testing requirements will help certifying agents identify cases where prohibited methods and substances are being used. Photo courtesy Jess Sanson.

This is the tenth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

In late 2012, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) announced a strengthened residue testing program to help increase consumer confidence in the $32 billion organic industry worldwide. Consumers purchase organic products expecting that they maintain their organic integrity from farm to market, and USDA is committed to meeting these expectations. This program will provide additional verification that organic farmers are following the rules and not using prohibited substances.

Beginning January 1, 2013, USDA organic certifying agents will test products from at least five percent of the organic farms and businesses that they certify each year. While testing has always been a part of organic product oversight, the new program specifies a minimum amount of testing that must occur.

This testing will help certifying agents identify and take enforcement action against farms and businesses intentionally using prohibited substances or methods, such as prohibited pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones or genetic engineering. Certifying agents can use test results to identify and address instances in which organic products may have unintentionally come in contact with prohibited substances.

The NOP has provided certifying agents with resources to help them comply with the new residue testing program. Certifiers currently conduct residue testing when they are concerned that a farm or business has used a prohibited substance or method. Certifying agents will continue to determine which organic farms and businesses should be subjected to testing. Some testing will likely be random, while other testing will be risk-based. Since there will be wide variety in how organic operations are selected and which tests are conducted, test results will not be used to make broad conclusions about a specific commodity or category of products.

The strengthened testing program also increases confidence in the integrity of USDA organic products among international trade partners. The U.S. currently has trade partnerships with the European Union and Canada, streamlining trade between three of the largest organic markets in the world. USDA is currently in discussions to consider similar arrangements with other foreign governments, creating new markets and jobs for organic farmers and businesses.

The new periodic residue testing program will discourage mislabeling and facilitate our oversight of USDA organic products around the world. Periodic residue testing is an important tool to protect the integrity of USDA organic products around the world.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Trade