The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), enacted under Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill, served to establish uniform national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as “organic.” The Act authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. In addition, the Program oversees mandatory certification of organic production. The Act also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards upon which the NOP is based. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”
USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition, April 1995
“Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
“‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
“Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
“Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”
CFR Regulatory Text, 7 CFR Part 205, Subpart A — Definitions. § 205.2 Terms defined
“Organic production. A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” USDA National Organic Program. http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/standards/DefineReg.html
USDA Consumer Brochure: Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts
“What is organic food? 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. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/Consumers/brochure.html
The final national organic standards rule was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000. The law was activated April 21, 2001. The rule, along with detailed fact sheets and other background information, is available on the National Organic Program's website, http://www.ams.usda.gov/nop/
“Organic Principles. There are several compelling principles that characterize certified organic farming. They include biodiversity, integration, sustainability, natural plant nutrition, natural pest management, and integrity. Most organic operations will reflect all of these to a greater or lesser degree. Since each farm is a distinct entity, there is a large degree of variation.” Organic Crop Production Overview, by George Kuepper and Lance Gegner. ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/organiccrop.html
“Organic production is not simply the avoidance of conventional chemical inputs, nor is it the substitution of natural inputs for synthetic ones. Organic farmers apply techniques first used thousands of years ago, such as crop rotations and the use of composted animal manures and green manure crops, in ways that are economically sustainable in today's world. In organic production, overall system health is emphasized, and the interaction of management practices is the primary concern. Organic producers implement a wide range of strategies to develop and maintain biological diversity and replenish soil fertility.” Organic Agriculture Overview, USDA, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), 2007. http://www.csrees.usda.gov/ProgViewOverview.cfm?prnum=6861
Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming
United States Department of Agriculture, 1980. http://afsic.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/USDAOrgFarmRpt.pdf
This groundbreaking 1980 study from USDA summarizes findings of a comprehensive study and assessment of organic farming in the United States and Europe.
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2004.
Search Organic Agriculture Information Access (Organic Roots), an electronic collection of historic USDA publications related to organic agriculture. Contains almost 200 documents published before 1942 (before synthetic chemicals became widely used) that contain data that are still very pertinent for today's agriculture. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/n/nal/
How can I find organic production people and organizations?
Sustainable Agriculture Organizations and Information Providers
USDA, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2006.
U.S. national and regional groups involved in research, outreach, advocacy and production expertise. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/agnic/susagorgs.shtml
Where can I explore related educational and career opportunities?
Educational and Training Opportunities in Sustainable Agriculture, 17th edition. Compiled by Becky Thompson
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, June 2009.
Directory of U.S., Canadian and international programs, curricula, classes, distance learning and field days at academic institutions and non-profit organizations. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/edtr/
SANET-MG. Sustainable Agriculture Network.
Job opportunities are often listed with the Sustainable Agriculture Network's e-mail discussion group, SANET-MG. To check recent archives/messages, go to http://lists.sare.org/archives/sanet-mg.html;
Select “Search the archives since July 2000.” Use keywords like “position” or “intern” or “internship,” or simply browse the past 2 to 3 months worth of messages. You may also subscribe to the list via this site.
Who will fund my organic farming or food research project?
Sustainable Agriculture Research Funding Resources
USDA, NAL, Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, 2007.
This fact sheet lists U.S. government and non-government entities that provide funding for research activities related to sustainable agriculture including organic farming and food, integrated pest management, water quality issues related to agriculture, rural community and small farm topics, alternative and value-added marketing practices, and more. http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/agnic/susagfunding.shtml
Federal Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching
ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, 2007
This publication offers an overview of the major federal conservation programs that provide resources for farmers and ranchers to enhance and maintain sustainable farming and ranching practices. http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/federal_resources.pdf