The Organic Foods Production Act put forth a vision for national organic standards in 1990. After twelve years and an estimated 275,000 public comments, the actual standards were implemented. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the nation's Final Rule on the first organic standards on October 21, 2002.
The national rules incorporated and replaced more than 40 separate standards set by individual states and private organizations. Establishing national standards eliminated any disparity created by so many independent certification organizations creating standards. With a national organic standard, foods labeled as organic meet a specific set of criteria that is the same no matter where the food is produced.
The National Organic Standards are designed for sustainability, to promote human health and nutrition, to improve the health of farmland, and to promote the health of our environment as a whole. The USDA defines organic agriculture as: "An ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony."
Organic standards prohibit:
Synthetic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides
Antibiotics or added growth hormones
Bio-solids (sewage sludge) and synthetic fertilizers
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), seeds or ingredients
Animal by-products in animal feed
Organic practices require:
Inspections of all farm fields, processing facilities and production and sales records by agents accredited as USDA Certifiers
Periodic testing of soil and water used in production
Continual monitoring, maintenance and improvement of soil health
Crop rotation, mulching and other practices to prevent soil erosion and enhance soil health
Specific composting methods for both animal and plant waste
Outdoor access for livestock
Pasture for all ruminants
100 percent certified organic feed for organic animals
Certification standards do not currently exist for beauty products, health supplements, pet foods, fabrics, household cleaners, farmed or wild seafood.