A recent submission to the Global Cold Chain Alliance's (GCCA) Inquiry Service involved gathering information on required certification for facilities that temper boxed organic meats. GCCA Vice President of Government and Legal Affairs Lowell Randel, reached out to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and formulated a response. See the full correspondence below.
Q: Would our facility be required to become USDA organic certified in order to temper products for a customer that would send us boxed organic meat? It would involve removing the product from the box, inspecting, then placing the meat into a combo, then shipping to a further processor.
A. Because you will be handling the product for tempering, you would need to become organic certified. Below is a list of resources from AMS to help you get a better idea of the program and process. Their recommendation was to look at the list of certifiers in [your state] and contact a few of them to try and identify one that you’d like to work with. They can give you cost and time estimates for what it would take to get certified. Also, because the product would be sent on for further processing, they wanted to make sure that the processor was also certified, otherwise the product would not be able to have the organic label.
The USDA provides brief training modules, informational brochures, and guides to programs and services on our website at http://www.ams.usda.gov/OrganicInfo. The Organic 101 module takes about 15 minutes and covers the fundamentals of organic, and the Organic 201 module takes a closer look at their standards, system plans, and enforcement. Their short brochure and detailed resource guide provide additional information on organic, as well as funding, training and educational resources available across the USDA.
List of accredited certifying agents (ACA): Certifying agents are third-party organizations accredited by the USDA that may certify a production or handling operation to the USDA organic standards. Operations may choose any certifying agent on this list. Certifying agents operate throughout the United States and in many countries worldwide. Please contact a certifying agent directly for specific information on certification processes, fees, and technical policies.
Fact sheet on organic certification. This resource explains who does and does not need to be certified, and provides an overview of the certification process (including inspections and enforcement activities).
USDA Organic Standards
Those seeking certification will need to become familiar with the following resources:
- USDA organic regulations. 7 CFR Section 205 includes all USDA organic standards, including prohibited practices, requirements, and the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Materials.
- Program Handbook. This compilation of guidance documents, policy memos, and instructions is intended to clarify policies and assist those who own, manage, or certify organic operations with complying with USDA organic regulations. Prospective certified operations should refer to NOP 2601: Five Steps to Certification, which provides general instruction on the certification process.
- Use of the USDA Organic Seal. This page discusses the appropriate use of the USDA organic seal and provides versions of the seal at both print and screen resolution.
- Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). This is the Act that established the NOP and its authority to enforce agricultural products sold, labeled, or represented as “organic” within the U.S.
- Preamble. If you are interested in the history of the USDA organic standards, you may want to review the preamble to the final rule, which established the National Organic Program.
Once an operation is certified, the operator may apply for a non-competitive reimbursement of certification expenses through the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. The reimbursement is handled through your State Department of Agriculture and may not exceed $750 or 75% of the costs of certification, whichever is lower.
*For operators in California. Please note that California operates a State Organic Program, which allows this state to mandate additional requirements before an operation could obtain certification. ACAs should also be able to answer questions and provide oversight of any additional requirements in California.
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