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Ask Dr. O

Dear Reader,
Often, I recieve questions about the highly dynamic realms of organic and sustainable agriculture.
So welcome to Ask Dr. O.
–The Editor

Q: What’s the deal with this? Good? Bad? Evil?
--Eric Goldhagen, NYC.

A: In a word: good…though as with everything, the “proof of the pudding is in the eating,” or perhaps more appropriately, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” is the website for Certified Naturally Grown, the “Grassroots Alternative to Certified Organic.” CNG is part of a movement known worldwide as participatory guarantee systems (PGS) ( PGS are where producers agree to follow a set of “systems” (standards and protocol) and “participate” together (inspect each other) to “guarantee” that no one is cheating.

PGS are also known as “first-party certification systems,” as opposed to second - or third-party certification systems, second being where a customer of the farmer would inspect and verify compliance, and third- being where another “unalloyed” entity (eg, any one of the 55 accredited certification agencies in the U.S.) handles the paperwork and inspection and verification. 

CNG states it is “…a non-profit offering certification programs tailored for small-scale, direct-market farmers and beekeepers using natural methods.” This “small-scale, direct market” feature is the primary focus of all PGS, and ostensibly provides for the farmers involved an option to make label/market claims at a minimum of expense and paperwork and bother.

CNG itself chooses to use the National Organic Program standards verbatim, combining them with some “online paperwork,” an annual “contribution” of money and a “work requirement” that you inspect at least one farm each year. All of this is done online on a volunteer basis and the online “transparency” of the paperwork is meant to provide and assure the verification and integrity associated with third-party certification programs (such as the NOP.) 

According to the CNG website, there are approximately 750 CNG members at present. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, in 2008 there were approximately 13,000 certified organic operations. Thus, as noted above, for some small-sized farmers in the US the relatively simple “vehicle” of a first-party/participatory guarantee system is working, while for the vast majority of farmers—including many (thousands) small-sized farmers, as well—the more complex “vehicle” of a third-party certification is their choice of “wheels.” 

The journey’s end/end target of both are the same, providing healthy, organic foods to consumers, with the one being on a relatively smaller scale due to the volunteer nature of the “vehicle,” while the other—given the “bells and whistles” on the vehicle of the NOP and the 55 accredited certification agencies—comprises the organic food that many reach for in the mainstream grocery stores, at farmer’s markets, through their CSAs, in restaurants or at natural food coops.

Q: What are the organic Tilth cert standards for organic meat raised and slaughtered to sell?
–Thanks, Micheal Sunanda

A: The standards which are used by Oregon Tilth and all accredited certification agencies in the U.S. for compliance with the USDA’s National Organic Program for organic meat are the same. Go to, then to NOP Regulations, then to the Electronic Code of Federal Regulation (eCFR) link and find/read §§205.236-239.

In brief, slaughter stock (bovine, porcine, caprine, poultry, etc) must be raised and managed organically from the last third of gestation or second day of hatching. In other words, for mammals the dam (mama) can be from conventional sources, but during the last third/trimester of her pregnancy, she must be managed organically, meaning all feeds must be certified organic and all supplements and health care inputs must either be organic or approved, depending on whether there are agricultural ingredients in the supplements or health care inputs. Ditto for poultry (broilers, turkeys, spent hens, etc.)

In addition, living conditions must be suitable and accommodate the animals’ natural behavior (outdoor access, pasture, fresh air, bedding, litter, appropriate confinement, see §205.239 Livestock Living Conditions.)

Further, preventive livestock health care practices must be used that provide a healthy environment, such as balanced feed rations and appropriate housing/access to outdoor/access to pasture
Finally, natural and/or approved synthetic health care inputs/medicines may be used, without affecting the organic status of a slaughter animal.

Temporary confinement is acceptable due to weather, stage of production of an animal, environmental situations or other conditions where the safety or health or an animal are jeopardized.

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