WASHINGTON — The US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has set up a new program for farmers transitioning to organic product, allowing them to earn transitional certification.
The USDA’s National Certified Transitional Program will use standards developed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Washington, to provide oversight to approved accredited organic certifying agents that offer transitional certification.
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will accept applications until Feb. 28 from existing organic accredited certifying agents interested in receiving accreditation to certify agricultural products as “transitional.”
“This program will help those transitioning to organic agriculture, encourage domestic production of organic products and ultimately support the continued growth of organic agriculture in the United States,” said Elanor Starmer, administrator for the AMS.
The Organic Trade Association said it designed the transitional program to create a consistent mechanism for certifying agencies to document operations’ adherence to organic regulations on land in transition to organic status. The new program provides certification and oversight, but it does not provide standards or criteria for labeling products certified under the program.
“The transitional certification program developed by OTA reflects perspectives from across the supply chain and will provide an on-ramp to producers while safeguarding organic as the gold standard for food label claims,” said Nate Lewis, farm policy director for the OTA.
Farmers must undergo a three-year transition program before they are able to gain USDA organic certification and market their products as certified organic.
The oversight provided by the USDA to agents offering transitional certification will consist of certifier audits and a uniform transitional production standard for both crop and livestock producers. Farmers will need to prove their land has been free of prohibited substances such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers for a minimum of one year. Farmers must follow all other organic production standards to achieve transitional certification, including crop rotation, the fostering and conserving of biodiversity, and avoiding the use of genetic engineering.
The new program does not include certification of products labeled as “transitional” in the marketplace and is limited to producers working toward their own organic certification. The OTA anticipates working with certifiers, food manufacturers and retailers to develop appropriate market-driven guidelines for the proper use of the term “transitional” on consumer packaged goods.