USDA Issues Guidance For Organic Handling

USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) issued its final guidance for the handling of unpackaged organic products, effective Jan. 22.

WASHINGTONUSDA's National Organic Program (NOP) issued its final guidance for the handling of unpackaged organic products, effective Jan. 22.

The guidance clarifies that operations that transport unpackaged organic products are exempt from organic certification as long as they are not organic handling operations that sell, process or package organic products. On the other hand, the guidance establishes that operations that handle unpackaged organic products, through packaging or labeling operations or by splitting or combining loads or lots, for example, must generally be certified.

However, operations that do not process organic products are also excluded from certification if they only handle packaged organic products that remain in the same, unopened packaging.

NOP issued the guidance to address recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), submitted in October 2010.

In addition, the guidance addresses a finding from a February 2012 Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit and a July 2013 OIG audit on organic milk. The OIG audits stated that the NOP needs to ensure that organic milk is not coming into contact with prohibited substances while being transported. In OIG's recommendations, it stated that the NOP should ensure that transporters are either certified or included in the responsible parties' Organic System Plan (OSP).

In 2010, USDA published the first edition of a program handbook designed to help owners, managers or certifiers of organic operations comply with federal regulations. Prepared by NOP, the handbook replaced the document control master list page previously available on the NOP website and provided guidance about the national organic standards and instructions that outline best program practices.

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