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Growth of USDA Organic Not Without Speed Bumps

Twenty years after Congress put the federal government in the business of promoting pesticide and chemical free agriculture, USDA’s Organic label is now a trusted symbol.

Few consumers, however, are aware of the scrambling that goes on behind the scenes by producers and handlers to meet the organic standard.  

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Earlier this month, for example, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which manages the National Organic Program (NOP), revoked the accreditation of the California Organic Farmers Association (COFA). 

That left about 50 producers and handlers in California scrambling to find another certifying agent to keep their organic status.   

According to a veteran certifying agent from one of the other 12 California organizations accredited by the NOP, USDA is doing a pretty good job of letting those organic operations know they must start over in obtaining their certifications.

The veteran said that given the demise of COFA in early September, most of its former clients should be able to obtain new organic certifications by January when their status must be reported to the NOP.

Certified organic pasture and cropland has grown to over 4.8 million acres, up from 914,800 acres, in the 13 years between 1995 and 2008, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ESA). 

Fewer than 100 organizations are accredited to certify land, crops and livestock as “USDA Organic.”

“Organic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture for over a decade,” ESA reports.  “The U.S. had under a million acres of certified organic farmland when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. By the time USDA implemented national organic standards in 2002, certified organic farmland had doubled, and doubled again between 2002 and 2005.”

It said organic livestock sectors have grown even faster.

Still there are bumps in the road.   Certifying agents so far this year have reported revoking the organic status of nine foreign and domestic producers and or handlers.   A Chinese company lost its organic status for large-scale use of chemicals and small-scale use of herbicides.

Close to another 150 organic producers and handlers have seen their certifications suspended for at least a portion of 2010.   Certifying agents report revocations and suspensions to the NOP, which puts them on a website that is updated on a monthly basis.

Suspensions can follow such paper work omissions as failing to submit an annual application, pay fees, or allow timely inspection of records.   Revocation usually involves something more serious like the intentional application of prohibited substances to land and crops.

Domestic certifying agents, like COFA, usually do not lose their accreditation, but it does happen.   

USDA announced Sept 10 that it was revoking COFA’s accreditation as a certifying agent.  It took the action when COFA dropped its appeal of an Oct. 8 decision of the Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator to revoke COFA’s accreditation for three years.

Certifying agents normally evaluate Organic System Plans, conduct inspections, and audit records to verify compliance with the national organic standard.  Once accredited, they must renew their accreditation every five years.

In addition to the 12 remaining certification organizations, California has the only state organized program that is recognized by USDA.    An organic industry is being built in the Golden State.  As of a couple of year ago, near 3,000 organic producers were tending to almost 500,000 acres of organic cropland and 300,000 acres of organic pastures.

About 78,000 head of cattle, including 55,000 dairy cows, and 2.2 million birds, including 1.1 million laying hens, are certified as organic in California.

Utah recently sought USDA recognition, but dropped its application for the same reasons most other states are not accredited–cost.

COFA was first accredited in 2002, and but an audit conducted for its renewal found a dozen “noncompliant actions.”    Ten were not corrected before USDA moved to revoke COFA’s accreditation.

That did not immediately mean producers and handlers certified as organic by COFA were in any trouble, but it did mean they had better be quick about finding another certified agent.  

“Any clients that do not seek other sources of certification will have their records reviewed by NOP for final disposition,” according to the official policy.   That means another agent is not certifying the producer or handler as organic by January, they won’t be able to use that USDA Organic label anymore.

Other certifying agents in California include:

A Bee Organic

40707 Daily Road

De Luz, California 92028

Contact: Sarah J.E. Costin & Ro Elgas

Telephone: 760-731-0155

Email: admin@abeeorganic.com

Website: www.abeeorganic.com

Scope: crops, wild crops, livestock, handling

Accredited 4/28/10

Agricultural Services Certified Organic

P.O. Box 4871

Salinas, California 93912

Contact: Katherine Borchard

Phone: 831-449-6365

E-mail: ascorganic@aol.com

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, and handling

Accredited: 04/07/06

CCOF Certification Services

2155 Delaware Ave., Suite 150

Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Contact: Jake Lewin

Phone: 831-423-2263 ext. 21

E-mail: jake@ccof.org

Website: www.ccof.org

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

Addition of wild crop to scope: 06/08

Global Culture

P.O. Box 1640

Crescent City, CA 95531

Contact: Linda Van Hook

Phone: 707-464-6913

E-mail: globalculture@earthlink.net

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/14/03

Guaranteed Organic Certification Agency

41911 5th St. #202

Temecula, CA 92590

Contact: Charles Heermans

Phone: 951-676-5154

Fax: 951-676-5156

E-mail: cheermans@goca.ws

Website: http://www.goca.ws/

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

Marin Organic Certified Agriculture (MOCA)

Agriculture – Weights and Measures

1682 Novato Bldg., Suite 150-A

Novato, CA 94947

Contact: Anita Sauber or Stacy Carlsen

Phone: 415-499-6700

E-mail: asauber@co.marin.ca.us or scarlsen@co.marin.ca.us

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office

1428 Abbott St.

Salinas, CA 93901

Contact: Kenneth Allen

Phone: 831-759-7325

E-mail: allenke@co.monterey.ca.us

Scope: crop, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

Scientific Certification Systems (Nutriclean)

2200 Powell St., Suite #725

Emeryville, CA 94608

Contact: Heena Patel

Phone (general line): 510-452-8000

Phone (direct line): 510-452-8024

Phone: (cell): 510-821-9818

Fax: 510-452-8001

E-mail: hpatel@scscertified.com

Website: http://www.SCScertified.com

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

 

Organic C
ertifiers Inc.

6500 Casitas Pass Rd.

Ventura, CA 93001

Contact: Susan Siple

Phone: 805-684-6494

E-mail: susan@organiccertfiers.com

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

 

Primuslabs

2810 Industrial Parkway

Santa Maria, CA 93455

Contact: Brian A. Mansfield

Phone: 805-922-0055

Fax: 805-922-8462

E-mail: brian@primuslabs.com

Scope: crops and handling

Accredited: 1/22/06

 

Quality Assurance International

9191 Towne Centre Dr., Suite 510

San Diego, CA 92122

Contact: Maria DeVincenzo

Phone: 858-792-3531

Fax: 734-827-6177

E-mail: qai@qai-inc.com

Scope: crop, livestock, wild crop, handling

Accredited: 4/29/02

 

Yolo County Department of Agriculture

70 Cottonwood St.

Woodland, CA 95695

Contact: John Young

Phone: 530-666-8141

Fax: 530-662-6094

E-mail: John.Young@yolocounty.org

Scope: crops, livestock, wild crop, and handling

Accredited: 1/22/06

 

 

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