Eligibility for certification

#Crops

Land is eligible for organic certification three years (36 months) after the last application of a prohibited substance, including split operation farms.

Land eligibility documentation
You must provide OTCO with the last three years of land history. We will need records for any materials applied or activities undertaken. If you have not actively managed the land for all three years, we will require a written statement or land history table from the previous land manager/owner.

Considerations for organic transition
Land verified as being free of prohibited substances for at least one year may qualify for transitional certification. Transitional certification is optional, and not a prerequisite for organic certification. Transition will require detailed recordkeeping for seeds, planting stock, management, materials, and other activities to demonstrate compliance at the time of requested organic certification.

Land free (36 months) of prohibited materials but conventional seed used
Provided you clearly demonstrate the conventional seeds used were untreated, or were treated with something that is organically approved, your land is eligible for certification.

Prohibited substances in non-crop areas (e.g., fence line, access road, etc.)
You must create or have an acceptable buffer area between your organic-eligible fields and the areas where the prohibited substance was applied.

#Livestock

As a livestock operator, the first step in determining your eligibility for certification is to assess (see above) if your farmland meets all of the requirements. Additional considerations include:

  • Animals already certified organic may only be placed on certified organic pasture
  • Any animal already certified organic that is put out on transitional pasture, or fed transitional feed, immediately loses its organic status and is ineligible for recertification
  • Animals in transition may only be fed transitional feed if the feed (a) was harvested from your farm and/or (b) was harvested from land in the final year of transition (e.g., 24 months or more free of prohibited materials)

Young animals (pre-outdoor access age)
Pullet operations may qualify for certification without requiring outdoor access.

Dairy cattle
Non-organic dairy animals require a one-year transition period prior to being eligible for certification.

During transition, milking animals can be fed: certified organic feed and pasture
The feed must either be (a) grown on your managed land that is already eligible for organic certification or (b) be feed grown on transitional land in its last year of transition (e.g., 24 months or more free of prohibited materials)

Slaughter stock
Slaughter stock must be under full organic management beginning no later than the third trimester of gestation to be eligible for certification. The mother cow — or other animal — must be managed organically for at least the last three (3) months before the slaughter animal was born.

Alert

Conventional animals can never be transitioned or sold as organic slaughter stock.

Breeding stock
Breeding stock does not require a transition process. For offspring to be considered organic, the mother must be managed organically for three (3) months before offspring is born.

Poultry
Conventional poultry is eligible for the production of organic meat and eggs only if raised organically beginning the second day of life (e.g., “day-old chicks”). Older poultry grown under conventional management are allowed only as breeder stock for the production of hatching eggs. Neither the conventional birds nor their eggs can be sold as organic.

#Processing and manufacturing

All operations that manufacture, process, package/re-pack — even if repacking already certified organic products into new packaging — or label/re-label organic products are required to obtain organic certification.

To determine if your operation is eligible for organic certification, read the list of requirements below:

  • Prevent commingling/contamination of organic products
  • Do not use GMOs, irradiation or sewage sludge in the processing of organic products
  • Use certified organic ingredients excepting those on the National List, or if certifier approved following a commercial availability search
  • Preventative sanitation and other approved pest management practices
  • Recordkeeping for compliance, including pesticide applications
  • Do not package or store organic products with materials with prohibited substances (e.g., fungicides, preservatives, or fumigants)
  • Use approved label claims
  • Provide certifier identification — of the final handling operation — on product info panel

Can I handle/process both organic and non-organic products?
Yes. You must demonstrate clear compliance in preventing contamination and commingling for all organic products.

#Packaging and labeling

All operations that manufacture, process, package/re-pack — even if repacking already certified organic products into new packaging — or label/re-label organic products are required to obtain organic certification.

To determine if your operation is eligible for organic certification, read the list of requirements below:

  • Prevent commingling/contamination of organic products
  • Preventative sanitation and other approved pest management practices
  • Recordkeeping for compliance, including pesticide applications
  • Do not package or store organic products with materials with prohibited substances (e.g., fungicides, preservatives, or fumigants)
  • Use approved label claims
  • Provide certifier identification — of the final handling operation — on product info panel

Can I handle and/or process both organic and non-organic products?
Yes. You must demonstrate clear compliance in preventing contamination and commingling for all organic products.

Do I need certification if only applying a label to a packaged and sealed organic product?
If you apply a label that makes an organic claim — e.g., uses the word organic, the USDA organic seal, etc. — you must be certified. Labels without organic claims do not require certification.

Do I need certification if placing a sealed organic product into additional, labeled packaging?
If the additional packaging makes an organic claim you must be certified. However, additional packaging labels without organic claims do not require certification.

Tip

In a sample scenario, you are contracted to package individual bags of chips into boxes for bulk sale. The individual bags of chips make an organic claim, but the box that you are packing the individual bags into does not. You are not required to obtain certification. However, if the box displayed an organic claim, you must be certified.

#Brand owner

Only operations that physically manufacture, process, package/re-pack, or label/re-label organic products are required to obtain organic certification. If you contract someone else to produce organic products for you and only sell the finished packaged and labeled product, you — a brand owner — do not require certification. Your co-packer or custom manufacturer is required to be certified.

Selling certified organic products without certification

As a brand owner, your co-packer — e.g., the operation producing, packaging, and labeling the products — as a certified organic operation is able to list your products on their certificate. You will be permitted to sell listed products in accordance with the applicable labeling requirements.

Co-packer will not list my products on their organic certificate
Your co-packer is not required to list your products on their certificate. If your products are not listed on the co-packers’ organic certificate, you can not sell the products as organic.

#Restaurants and retailers

Certification for retail food establishments is optional under the organic regulations.

Retailer refers to retail food establishments with a physical storefront — e.g., grocery stores, food departments in a store, bulk food item sections, etc. Retailer does not refer to marketers or brokers, nor does it refer to operations — brand owners — that sell items that they have contracted a co-packer or custom manufacturer to produce for them.

For a retailer, opting into organic certification allows for the ability to market and label products as certified organic, providing consumer confidence regarding the process, sourcing, and more. A retailer does not need to be certified to sell certified organic agricultural products and packaged organic products.

Alert

Certification for restaurants and retailers is optional, however, the use of the USDA organic seal as well as the ability to market products as being ‘certified organic’ is only permissible for those operations that have obtained organic certification.

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