Introduction: The Basics of USDA Organic Certification
As consumers become increasingly health-conscious, demand for organic products has skyrocketed. The global organic food and beverage market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 9.5% from 2021 to 2026, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence.
Obtaining the USDA Organic Certification is a great way to ensure that your farming practices are compliant with organic standards. It is also a reliable way to differentiate your product from conventional food products in the market.
If you're an organic food and beverage brand looking to capitalize on this trend, getting your products certified as USDA organic can give you a significant advantage in the market. However, the certification process can be complex and challenging, with many requirements to meet and documents to file.
With so many brands making vague or misleading claims about their sustainability practices, it can be challenging for consumers to separate genuine environmentally-friendly products from those that are just "greenwashing."
Obtaining organic certifications from recognized organizations such as the USDA can help businesses gain credibility and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. These certifications require rigorous standards and regular inspections, which can help to reassure consumers that the product they are buying is genuinely organic and meets specific environmental standards.
In this blog post, we'll guide you through the process of getting your brand certified as USDA organic in 10 easy-to-follow steps, so you can tap into the growing demand for organic products and give your brand a competitive edge.
Here are ten simple steps that can guide you through the process:
Step 1: Read and understand the USDA organic regulations:
Before you start the certification process, it is important to read and understand the USDA organic regulations.
These regulations set the standards for what can be classified as organic, outlining specific requirements for everything from soil and water quality to pest and weed control.
By adhering to these regulations, businesses can demonstrate that their products meet strict environmental and sustainability standards, which can be a significant selling point for environmentally-conscious consumers.
Organic crops must be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Livestock must be raised on organic feed, without the use of antibiotics or growth hormones, and must have access to the outdoors.
Organic handlers and processors must follow strict guidelines to ensure that organic products are not contaminated with prohibited substances during processing, handling, and storage.
Organic products must be segregated from non-organic products during processing and handling to prevent commingling.
Organic farmers, handlers, and processors must keep detailed records to demonstrate compliance with the organic regulations.
Organic products must be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent before they can be labeled or sold as organic.
The USDA organic regulations are complex, and it is important to work with a USDA-accredited certifying agent to ensure compliance with these regulations.
That said, businesses can choose to DIY the process. However, it's important to note that doing so may lead to potential pitfalls, such as not meeting the strict requirements and guidelines set by the USDA. Working with an agent can save businesses time and headaches in the long run and help ensure a successful certification outcome.
Check out the 3rd step in this article to learn how you can find and work with an agent to make the certification process more manageable and increase your chances of success.
Step 2: Determine if you are eligible for certification:
Your business must meet the eligibility criteria outlined in the USDA organic regulations. This includes having an organic system plan, following organic farming practices, and maintaining detailed records.
To be eligible for organic certification under the USDA organic regulations, your business must meet several criteria, including:
Your operation must be located in the United States or in a country that has an equivalency agreement with the USDA.
You must produce, handle, or process agricultural products.
You must have an organic system plan that describes your farming, handling, or processing practices for organic production. This plan must include information about how you will maintain soil fertility, manage pests and diseases, and prevent contamination of organic products.
You must use only approved substances and methods for organic production, handling, and processing. This means that you cannot use synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in organic production.
You must maintain detailed records that document your organic production, handling, and processing activities. These records must be kept for at least five years and must be made available for inspection upon request.
Step 3: Select a USDA-accredited certifying agent:
USDA-accredited certifying agents are responsible for evaluating your organic system plan, conducting inspections, and issuing organic certificates. You can find a list of USDA-accredited certifying agents on the USDA website.
Certification agencies charge fees for their services, which can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the complexity of the operation and the number of products being certified. The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), for example, lists its certification fees on its website.
Step 4: Submit an application:
Once you have selected a certifying agent, you will need to submit an application to begin the certification process. The application will require you to provide detailed information about your farming, handling, or processing operations. The USDA charges a non-refundable application fee that ranges from $100 to $1000, depending on the annual gross organic sales of the operation. More information on the application fee can be found on the USDA's website.
Step 5: Develop an organic system plan:
Your organic system plan will outline your practices for producing, handling, and processing organic products. It will include information on crop rotation, pest management, soil fertility, and other aspects of organic production.
Step 6: Complete an inspection:
After you have submitted your organic system plan, your certifying agent will conduct an inspection of your operation to verify that you are following organic practices. This inspection will include a review of your records and on-site inspection of your operation.
Step 7: Receive a certification decision:
Based on the results of the inspection, your certifying agent will make a certification decision. If your operation meets the USDA organic regulations, you will be issued an organic certificate.
Step 8: Maintain compliance:
Once you have received your organic certificate, you will need to maintain compliance with the USDA organic regulations. Here are some tips for maintaining compliance:
Keep detailed records: Maintain detailed records of all of your organic production, handling, and processing activities. These records should include information about inputs used, pest and disease management practices, and any other activities related to organic production.
Follow approved methods and substances: Use only approved methods and substances for organic production, handling, and processing. Review the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances regularly to ensure that you are using only approved substances.
Conduct regular self-audits: Conduct regular self-audits of your operation to identify any potential compliance issues. This can help you address any issues before they become more serious.
Participate in training and education: Participate in training and education opportunities to stay up-to-date on the latest organic regulations and best practices.
Annual inspection fees: As part of the certification process, USDA-accredited inspectors conduct annual inspections of certified operations, and it is usually the responsibility of the operation to cover the cost of these inspections. Depending on the size and complexity of the operation, inspection fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
Step 9: Use the USDA organic seal:
If you meet the USDA organic regulations, you may use the USDA organic seal on your products and in your marketing materials. However, you must follow specific guidelines for using the seal. Here are some of the key guidelines:
The USDA organic seal can only be used on products that have been certified organic by a USDA-accredited certifying agent.
The USDA organic seal must be used in its entirety and cannot be altered or modified in any way.
The USDA organic seal must be prominently displayed on the principal display panel of the product label.
The USDA organic seal can be used in conjunction with other statements that describe the organic nature of the product, such as "100% organic" or "made with organic ingredients."
The USDA organic seal cannot be used on non-food products, such as textiles or personal care products.
The USDA organic seal must be removed from products that are no longer certified organic.
Step 10: Renew your certification:
Your organic certification will need to be renewed annually. You will need to submit updated information on your operation, undergo another inspection, and pay the renewal fee to maintain your certification.
This article is an excellent guide for businesses that want to obtain organic certification for their products. It covers everything from understanding the regulations to developing an organic system plan in 10 easy-to-follow steps.
The article also gives valuable insights into the organic industry and highlights the benefits of organic certification for businesses.
By reading this article, businesses can learn how to tap into the growing organic market and establish themselves as leaders in sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices.
Have you considered obtaining a USDA organic certificate for your business?
What steps have you taken towards organic certification?