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Organic 101: Sound and Sensible Approach to Organic Certification

The ‘Sound and Sensible’ initiative is about removing barriers to certification, and working with farmers, like the one pictured here, to correct small issues before they become larger ones.

The ‘Sound and Sensible’ initiative is about removing barriers to certification, and working with farmers, like the one pictured here, to correct small issues before they become larger ones.

This is the twelfth installment of the Organic 101 series that explores different aspects of the USDA organic regulations.

Consumers purchase organic products expecting that they maintain their organic integrity from farm to market. Under the USDA organic rules, organic farmers must demonstrate they are protecting the environment, supporting animal health and welfare, and producing their products without the use of prohibited substances (including synthetic pesticides).

However, farmers have reported spending more time completing forms and maintaining records. A certain amount of records are essential to ensure organic farmers are meeting the organic standards, such as planting non-genetically modified seeds or raising dairy cattle on organic pasture. But, too much focus on paperwork can detract from farming activities that support organic principles, such as conservation and cycling of resources. To address this, the National Organic Program (NOP) initiated a program aimed at helping reduce the paperwork and other burdensome aspects of organic certification while maintaining high standards, ensuring compliance, and protecting organic integrity.

The ‘Sound and Sensible’ initiative involves identifying and removing barriers to certification, streamlining the certification process, focusing enforcement, and working with farmers and processors to correct small issues before they become larger ones.  The overall goal of this new initiative is to make organic certification accessible, attainable, and affordable for all operations.

When developing this initiative, we outlined 5 guiding principles.  The first is efficient processes, eliminating bureaucratic processes that do not contribute to organic integrity.  Secondly, we are working to streamline recordkeeping to ensure that required records support organic integrity and are not a barrier for farms and businesses to maintain organic compliance. Thirdly, we are asking for practical plans, or straightforward Organic System Plans that clearly capture organic practices. The fourth principle is fair, focused enforcement. We plan to focus enforcement on willful violators, handle minor violations in a way that leads to compliance, and publicize how enforcement protects the organic market.  Finally, as always, we put integrity first by focusing on factors that impact organic integrity the most, building consumer confidence that organic products meet defined standards from farm to market.

The NOP has a number of projects underway to introduce ‘Sound and Sensible’ principles related to organic certification. For example, organic certification requires farmers to support biodiversity and conserve natural resources. Some farmers also participate in conservation programs through NRCS. Due to their compatible objectives, the NOP is collaborating with NRCS to streamline participation in both programs. We are also 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.

Organic certification ensures the integrity of organic products around the world, and this initiative will make sure the process is accessible, attainable and affordable for all.

14 Responses to “Organic 101: Sound and Sensible Approach to Organic Certification”

  1. Anna Marrs says:

    Please send Organic 101 installments 1 thru 11. Thank you

  2. Wink Davis says:

    Anna: try clicking on the “organic 101″ link in the first line.
    This series seems oriented toward validating the Certified Organic brand in the eyes and minds of consumers. As an already certified farmer I was hoping to find more specifics on how USDA will reduce the paperwork and streamline the process for me and what I can be doing right now to implement these changes on the ground. Does Miles McEvoy have a response?

  3. Chris Kees says:

    Just catch the crooks!

  4. Jack Gutschenritter says:

    My thoughts on this go back to when all farming was essentially done organically. Proving one is organic should really be by default. Farmers buying GMO seed, and chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides should be reported to the USDA by the source they purchased from. If a farmer produces food but has no reports of buying forbidden seed or chemicals, then they are by default organic. Same with labeling food as such. Organic should be the default. All others should be labeled as non-organic and be subject to inspections and record keeping.

  5. Sarah T, ICS says:

    This initiative is still in the development stage. The USDA/NOP are seeking comment from all stakeholders; Wink, I urge you to submit your point of view. The Certifiers and Inspectors Associations have organized working groups to provide their perspective to NOP as well.
    More information is available about the USDA/NOP’s Sound and Sensible Initiative at the following links:

    Full text of the notice in the Federal Register:

    Public notice at (public comments can be submitted by Aug 27th via the links on this page):!documentDetail;D=AMS-NOP-13-0051-0001

    April 2013 issue of the USDA/NOP Organic Integrity Quarterly (page 5):


  6. Silvia Rossi says:

    from EU to US is more difficult than 1 year ago.

  7. Russ Lee Monchil says:

    Make paper work shorter, simpler, put keep enforcement and standards high.

  8. Ron Lodato, Sr. says:

    Make paper work shorter, simpler, but keep enforcement and standards high!

  9. Cathy Klug says:

    Jack is right, why should the safest simplest products be the most regulated? Is it pressure from the big chem producers to paperwork strain the smaller Organic growers who arent buying their concoctions? Common sense says chemical roulette should be heavily regulated and traced! AgentOrange was tested & govt approved to Only defoliate leaves, right? Organic Happy All.

  10. Nathaniel says:

    As an inspector, ever since the Food Safety Modernization Act, it seems to be like the FDA has been playing catch up to the NOP. While the NOP falls under AMS, the program should be a standard procedure across the board, and built upon as the risks of contamination increases.. My point is already mentioned above in other comments.

  11. SW says:

    I am organic by choice and commitment. I wish it on those around me but don’t have that much influence. However, I had an inspector who cited our operation for farming (row crops, so these were only near the turning at the end of the field) within a few feet of electric poles going down the end of the field which were around 15-25 years old (little treatment chemical left)… Such an attitude of finger-pointing is very discouraging to small producers. (When I checked with the electric company to get info about the placing of the poles and reported it, the next year I was told that was a non-issue. As it should have been!) At the same time, a person intentionally farming right up next to and around new poles with no regard for the chemicals in the poles would have made some sense to cite. So this is the kind of issue I would think “sound and sensible” would include as well as minimizing paperwork.

    One thing in our current operation that might be addressed by “sound and sensible” is what it takes to certify a beef operation. My beef animals are on grass all summer and stockpile however long it can support them in the winter. After that, when they have MY hay, then they can be certified legitimately, but does it pay me to pay for certifying my hay most years when I only use it myself anyway? And the years that I run out of stockpile and hay, my cattle cannot be certified (even though I may buy and use hay from some neighbor’s untreated pasture), because they will be fed with that uncertified hay…and that will be in the last trimester of the cow’s gestation and/or the spring portion of a steer’s life before slaughter. The certifying of beef is a long process if the beef are grassfed (because you do not usually butcher at 15-18 months), and I cannot know whether it will pay to have them certified at the time the money has to go in. This presents a problem. Maybe “sound and sensible” can look at this problem. My solution is not to certify (though a few years I could have, but didn’t know in time, according to the rules)…but my beef is more “organic” than most around at ANY time.

  12. Jay says:

    NOP should also convey this message to fotigen accredited bodies who ate insisting fot too much paper eork.Like NPOP India. Web based tracrability system created by APEDA ohas doubled the paper work.

  13. Virginia Johnson says:

    The above being # 12 — Please provide links for 1 through 11 in the series so that everyone who is coming in on #12 will have the benefit of what has gone before.

  14. Raymond says:

    I want to know if there is anything in the works to somehow require that people and groups who supposedly sell less than %5,000 annually and call themselves organic to at least register as a producer in their respective states. These people are directly and unfairly competing with the very small farmer who is certified organic and is properly jumping through all the certified organic hoops. It is very confusing to the consumer, and frustrating the small emerging certified organic farmer.

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