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Organic Certification


Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations.  Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.  Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.  Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards.

Legal Issues

Labeling of Organic Food

Organic Certification

State Organic Programs

Organic Handlers and Transporters

Selling Organic Products at Farmers Markets

Standards for Manure Applications

Applicable Law

Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill established the Organic Foods Production Act which granted the USDA authority to create the National Organic Program(NOP). The NOP created standards for organic products and created a certification program necessary to market and sell products labeled as organic. The regulations are codified in 7 CFR 205.

NCDA&CS Organic Information and Other Links
USDA Fact Sheet


What is the National Organic Program?

The National Organic Program (NOP) is a USDA program which develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. All products that are labeled as organic must adhere to NOP guidelines.

Do I need to become Organic Certified?

Operations or portions of operations that produce or handle agricultural products that are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as "organic," "100% organic," or "made with organic ingredients" need certification from the USDA. Products certified as 95% or more organic bear this seal:

Producers and handling (processing) operations that sell less than $5,000 a year in organic agricultural products DO NOT need certification to label their products as organic, but must abide by the national standards for organic products. 7 CFR §§ 205.100, 205.101.

How do I become Organic Certified?

To apply for certification, you must submit the following information to an accredited certifying agent:

  • The type of operation to be certified
  • A history of substances applied to land for the previous three (3) years
  • The organic products being grown, raised, or processed
  • The organic system plan (OSP) - a plan describing practices and substances used in production.  The OSP must also describe monitoring practices to be performed to verify that the plan is effectively implemented, a record-keeping system, and practices to prevent commingling of organic and nonorganic products and to prevent contact of products with prohibited substances.

Applicants must keep accurate post-certification records for five (5) years concerning the production, harvesting, and handling of agricultural products that are to be sold as organic.  These records must document that the operation is in compliance with the regulations and verify the information to the certifying agent.  Access to these records must be provided to authorized representatives of the USDA, including the certifying agent . 7 CFR § 205.103.

The certifying agent will review your application for certification eligibility.  A qualified inspector will conduct an on-site inspection of your operation.  Inspections are scheduled when the inspector can observe the practices used to produce or handle organic products and talk to someone knowledgeable about the operation.  The certifying agent then reviews the inspector's report.  If the inspector finds that you are complying with standards and requirements, the certifying agent grants certification and issues a certificate.  7 CFR § 205.404.

How long does it take to transition to organic certification status?

The land that the product is grown on must not have had prohibited materials on it for three years before harvest.

Where can I find a certifying agent?

To find a certifying agent, use the USDA Accredited Certifying Agent search page.  The only Accredited Certifying Agent in NC is:
North Carolina Crop Improvement Association (PDF)
3709 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC 27607-5464
Contact: Dr. Daryl Bowman
Phone: 919-513-3444
Scope: crop, livestock, handling
Accredited: 7/9/02
2008 List of Certified Operations (PDF)
2007 Accreditation Renewal Decision Letter (PDF)

Can the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services help me apply for certification or re-certification?

Yes!  Thanks to a $30,000 USDA grant, growers who are certified or re-certified after Sept. 30, 2009 may apply for assistance with the NCDA & CS Organic Cost Share program.  The program will pay 75% of the cost of certification, up to $750.  Funds are disbursed on a first-come, first-served basis through Sept. 30, 2010. 

To apply for assistance from the Organic Cost Share program, fill out the assistance form entirely and mail it to the address at the bottom with copies of the receipts and certification.

For more information, visit or contact:
Kevin Hardison
1020 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1020
(919) 733-7887

Will there be future inspections after I am certified?

Annual inspections will be conducted to ensure that the operation is up to standard.  The regulations allow USDA or the certifying agent to conduct unannounced inspections at any time as well.  If USDA or the certifying agent has reason to believe an agricultural input or product has come into contact with a prohibited substance or been produced by an excluded method, USDA or the certifying agent may also conduct pre- or post-harvest testing. 7 CFR § 205.406.

What records must farmers keep?

Farmers must keep a record of all inputs that are placed on the soil or crop. Certifiers will review these records to determine if the crop is organic. These records must be maintained for at least 5 years. 7 CFR § 205.103.

How long does certification last?

Certification remains in effect until terminated, either voluntarily or through the enforcement process. The producer must annually pay the certification fees, submit an updated organic production or handling plan, and pass the yearly on-site inspection. 7 CFR § 205.406.

What do farmers' market managers need to know about organic products?

Farmers' market managers should ask to see a vendor's organic certification if a vendor is selling products that claim to be organic. Remember if the vendor sells less than $5,000 a year then they are exempt and can still sell their products as organic. 7 CFR § 205.101.

What happens if a product that is not organic is labeled as organic?

Marketing and selling of non-organic products as organic is a violation that can result in a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation and can also result in criminal sanctions against the violator. 7 CFR § 205.100.

What is the law regarding use of manure on organic crops?

If composted manure is applied then there are no restrictions placed on farmers. If non-composted manure is applied then a period of 90 days must pass before the crops can be harvested and 120 days must pass before crops that come into contact with the soil should be harvested. 7 CFR § 205.203.

Can I label my dairy products as organic?

Yes, dairy products are subject to the same certification process that other agricultural products must satisfy. To get organic certification dairy animals must be fed and maintained organically for a time period of one year prior to production of milk. 7 CFR § 205.236.

Can I label meat products as organic?

Yes. Livestock must be organically fed and managed beginning during the last third of gestation or the second day after hatching for poultry to receive the organic certification. Additionally livestock must have access to outdoor areas and ruminants must have access to pasture.  7 CFR § 205.236.

Disclaimer: The materials available on this website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site does not create an attorney-client relationship between NCDA&CS and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of NCDA&CS or any state employee.

Some links within the NC Ag Law website may lead to other sites. NCDA&CS does not incorporate any materials appearing in such linked sites by reference, and does not necessarily sponsor, endorse or otherwise approve of such linked materials.  

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