U.S.D.A. program involves transitional certification in organics

by Jeff Gelski
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Organic field
The U.S.D.A.’s National Certified Transitional Program was created for farmers transitioning to organic product.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has set up a new program for farmers transitioning to organic product, allowing them to earn transitional certification.

The U.S.D.A.’s National Certified Transitional Program will use standards developed by the Organic Trade Association, Washington, to provide oversight to approved accredited organic certifying agents that offer transitional certification.

The U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Marketing Service will accept applications until Feb. 28 from existing organic accredited certifying agents interested in receiving accreditation to certify agricultural products as “transitional.”

Elanor Starmer, U.S.D.A.
Elanor Starmer, administrator for the A.M.S.

“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 A.M.S.

The O.T.A.  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.

Nate Lewis, O.T.A.
Nate Lewis, farm policy director for the O.T.A.

“The transitional certification program developed by O.T.A. 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 O.T.A.

Farmers must undergo a three-year transition program before they are able to gain U.S.D.A. organic certification and market their products as certified organic.

The oversight provided by the U.S.D.A. 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 O.T.A. 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. 
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