The NOP Organic Insider, USDA National Organic Program

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AnnouncementMarch 29, 2013

Organic certification ensures the integrity of organic products around the world.  

The National Organic Program (NOP) has initiated a new program to reduce paperwork and other burdensome aspects of organic certification while maintaining high standards, ensuring compliance, and protecting organic integrity.  

This 'Sound and Sensible' initiative involves identifying and removing barriers to certification, streamlining the certification process, focusing enforcement on egregious violations, and correcting small issues before they become larger ones.   

'Sound and Sensible' Organic Certification

Overall Goal:Organic certification that is accessible, attainable, and affordable.

Five Principles of Sound and Sensible

  1. Efficient Processes: Eliminate bureaucratic processes that do not contribute to organic integrity.
  2. Streamlined Recordkeeping: Ensure that required records support organic integrity and are not a barrier for farms and businesses to maintain organic compliance.
  3. Practical Plans: Support simple Organic System Plans that clearly capture organic practices.
  4. Fair, Focused Enforcement: Focus enforcement on willful, egregious violators; handle minor violations in a way that leads to compliance; and publicize how enforcement protects the organic market.
  5. Integrity First: Focus on factors that impact organic integrity the most, building consumer confidence that organic products meet defined standards from farm to market.
Penalty Matrix Under Construction

In September 2012, the NOP published a penalty matrix to promote consistent application of the USDA organic regulations. Certifying agents and others have pointed out that the matrix focuses on paperwork violations rather than practice violations.

In the spirit of 'Sound and Sensible,' we have archived the September 2012 version while we incorporate this feedback. The archived documents are still available online and will likely be updated later this year.

Archived Documents

NOP 2612:Recommended Penalties for Violations of Specific Regulatory Requirements 

NOP 2612-1: Penalty Matrix by Violation Category 

Current Sound and Sensible Projects

The NOP has a number of projects underway to introduce Sound and Sensible principles across organic accreditation and certification processes. Here are some examples:

New Technical Assistance Instruction
Many certifiers and inspectors worry about being perceived as "consulting" if they try to help their clients come into compliance. This instruction, which will be released this spring, will outline what certifiers and inspectors can and can't do to assist organic operations.  

Updated Certification Instructions
We are updating our Instructions related to the "5 Steps to Certification," recordkeeping, certificates, and other topics to reflect sound and sensible principles based on certifier feedback and accreditation audit results. These will be released as they are completed.

Auditor Training
The NOP is holding a series of "recalibration" training sessions with NOP accreditation auditors at the end of April. This training will teach our auditors to audit using sound and sensible principles and help increase consistency across our audit team.

"Removing Barriers" Project
The NOP is currently working on a project focused on identifying the key barriers to organic certification encountered by small businesses, and determining paths forward for removing these barriers. This project has included a number of interviews with certifiers, feedback from the Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA), and discussions with many others in the organic community.

About the National Organic Program (NOP)

The NOP facilitates trade and ensures integrity of organic agricultural products by consistently implementing organic standards and enforcing compliance with the regulations throughout the world. Learn more.

About the NOP Organic Insider

The NOP Organic Insider informs the organic community on a wide range of NOP functions, including organic standards, accreditation and international activities, compliance and enforcement, the National Organic Standards Board, training events, and the Cost Share program.

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