Welcome to The New Farm Guide to US Organic Certifiers
Organic certification is the cornerstone to the national organic marketplace in the United States. It is a documented, monitored process that sets organic products apart from all others. The careful tracking that begins with soil care and seed selection continues through packing, handling, processing and retailing in an integrated audit system.
Certification by federally accredited certifying agents (groups) levels the playing field for farmers, processors and consumers.
The New Farm Guide to US Organic Certifiers:
Certifiers vary widely in their service area, the collective expertise of their staff members and inspectors, and in the kinds of services they provide. Some focus their work in a single state, while others work globally. Of the 97 certifying agents accredited by USDA's National Organic Program
as of March 2005 (last updated 6/4/2004), about 60 percent were based in the US. Some work primarily with small-scale farms while others work with many processors and retailers.
Few farmers can afford to investigate each potential certifier. They may have historic connections with one certifier, but wonder how it stacks up against a newer organization. Livestock and crop producers need to decide what strengths they most value in a certifier, then analyze information on certifiers to allow them to make an informed choice.
That's why we created this guide.
: The Rodale Institute collaborated with the Organic Farming Research Foundation
(OFRF) to conduct the first-ever self-profile survey of USDA-accredited organic certifiers in 2003. OFRF provided an annual directory of organic certifiers as a service to farmers from 1992 through the start of the start of the National Organic Program in 2002. Our cooperation resulted in more detailed descriptions that allowed The New Farm staff to create this searchable database as a decision-making tool for farmers.
In designing the questions, we received help from organic farmers, inspectors and certifiers to produce results that provide meaningful distinctions of experience, capacity and service among certifiers. This gude will help farmers select certifiers and help certifiers to watch for new services to support their clients.
Information supplied by the certifiers provided the working foundation for this guide. Some certifiers have provided new data in recent weeks, and this updating continues. You can check the freshness of the information by the "last updated" date at the end of each profile and profile summary.
: Check the certifiers you know best. How well does the profile match your perception? What do you want to know - that can be known - that you don't see here?
To talk about what you see here, comment on your experience with a certifier, or about your certification experience in general, check out the Certification Forum
We will solicit information from new certifiers as they are accredited by the USDA's NOP, invite annual review and updates to keep information current, tell you when we find out that certifiers are no longer active, and refine this guide with your help to make it more useful.
Organic in the US
: "Organic" is a historic agricultural and cultural concept that is more than a legal definition. Yet since the USDA's National Organic Standard
(NOS) became effective in October, 2002, a growing body of regulations carefully defines how crops and livestock are grown, processed and handled in the marketplace in order to be sold in the United States as "organic." The NOS is the "organic rule" that individual inspectors use to determine compliance by each entity in the organic value chain.
Yet it is certifying agents
(groups or "certifiers") that actually decide which farms meet the USDA's current organic standards - same for processors and handlers. Inspectors report their on-site findings to the certifying agent which hires or employs them.
Each certifying agency must be accredited (authorized to operate) by the USDA's National Organic Program
. Certifying agents may be for-profit, not-for-profit or even state government agencies. All certify to the same regulatory standard, yet interpretation of the standard and internal processes may still vary slightly from certifier to certifier. The degree of variation is minor compared to the differences prior to implementation of the national standard of 2002. The NOP is administered by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service
USDA Accreditation Status page
has the formal list of accredited agents and the status of agents (certifiers) with applications pending.