(Beyond Pesticides, November 15, 2012) The National Organic Program (NOP) will now require organic certifiers to conduct periodic residue tests each year on at least 5% of the farms they certify, beginning in 2013. Periodic residue testing is required by the 1990 Organic Food Production Act (OFPA). This recent policy change comes after a 2010 audit of NOP by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Inspector General (IG). Periodic residue testing on organic farms originally was to begin in September of 2010, however, confusion over NOP’s initial testing rules resulted in only a small amount of periodic residue tests being conducted.
The new rules on periodic residue testing mean that the independent agencies that certify organic farms must test up to 5% of the farms they oversee. Certifiers will test for pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms. Certifiers can test not only finished organic products, but also soil, water, waste, seeds, plant tissue, and processed product samples. Under OFPA, certifiers are required to test pre-and post-harvest residues even when there is no apparent problem. Although NOP’s revised rule on testing also eliminates the requirement for certifiers to report all test results, results must be kept by certifiers for at least three years, and must be available for public review. The NOP is moving to the new standard of 5% minimum testing because there had been confusion over the standards for what constitutes periodic testing.
This new NOP rule on periodic residue testing results from the IG’s 2010 recommendations after its audit of NOP. The audit was spurred on by organic advocates who criticized USDA’s implementation of the federal organic law during the second Bush administration. After the IG found that NOP was not conducting periodic residue testing, NOP justified this lack of testing by stating that the cost of testing would be too high. The budget of the NOP was then increased in 2010 from $3.9 million to $6.3 million and the staff was nearly doubled from 16 to 31. This larger staff and budget should allow the NOP to carry out the testing requirement in OFPA. Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator of NOP, asserts that organic standards have been strengthened under the Obama administration. The NOP has already moved to implement 12 of the other 14 recommendations made by the IG in the audit.
Beyond Pesticides believes in the strong enforcement of the OFPA, and that moving to conduct periodic residue testing would help assure consumers of the quality and safety of organic products. Organic standards are far more rigorous than the procedures used in chemically intensive agriculture, and as a result lead to greater human and environmental health benefits.
Source: The Grower
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.