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Fifty Years of Organic and Beyond With CCOF

by Rachel Witte |

This year, we’re celebrating 50 years of CCOF and reflecting on how our organization has developed to what we are today. 

A formative part of our history is, of course, organic certification and the development of the organic standards at the California state and United States federal levels. This give-and-take relationship between CCOF and regulatory bodies has shaped us into who we are today. 

Take a peek with us today at CCOF’s journey from 1973 to 2023. 


CCOF is founded! Activist growers seeking to promote and define organic production practices form a chapter system that later becomes CCOF as it is known today.


Oregon passes a state law defining the term “organic.”


California passes the California Organic Food Act and becomes one of the first states to regulate organic products. 


CCOF holds the first organic inspector training, recognizing that organic inspectors need to be qualified, trained, and paid.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) releases “Intolerable Risk: Pesticides in our Children’s Food.” Aired on “60 Minutes,” it becomes known as the “Alar scare.” This media event propels organic production into the mainstream market and begins an explosive growth trend. 

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) hosts the first conference of its kind to bring organic groups together with consumer groups from throughout the country. Coming right after the Alar scare, this conference enables CCOF to join with other groups to make organic known on a national level. The Organic Food Alliance and Organic Farmers Association Council form. Together with the organization known today as the Organic Trade Association (OTA), they begin to lobby for federal regulation to define and protect organic production practices. 

CCOF is the first to review brand name products for allowed use in organic. Oregon Tilth joins in this project two years later.


U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy submits a bill to define and regulate organic production practices as part of the farm bill, but it is not approved by the Senate Agricultural Committee. The Organic Foods Production Act, as originally proposed by Senator Leahy, passes as a separate piece of legislation not attached to the farm bill. This is considered an incredible success in light of the Senate Ag Committee’s earlier refusal of the bill. 

The revised California Organic Foods Act also passes.


The first National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) members are announced at the EcoFarm Conference. Most members are not from the slate of candidates proposed by the organic community.


NOSB begins the work of writing standards and compiling the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. CCOF participates heavily by educating new NOSB members on the issues, using CCOF standards as a starting point and sending the initial list of materials to be reviewed through OTA to the NOSB.


NOSB submits their recommendations for the national organic regulations to the USDA.


The first proposed National Organic Program regulation appears in the Federal Register. The organic community is shocked to find genetic engineering, irradiation, and sewage sludge (the “big three”) written into the standards. The public rejects the proposed regulations with 280,000 comments, setting a record (at the time) for the most comments received on any USDA proposed regulation. The USDA is “awestruck at the size and fury of the protest,” and announces the withdrawal of the “big three” from the standards.

Also, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) is created out of CCOF and Oregon Tilth’s input-reviewing project. 


The third and final version of the federal rule governing organic is published in the Federal Register.


The National Organic Program (NOP) rule becomes law on March 20, starting an 18-month implementation period.

The CCOF Foundation is formed as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization to obtain grants that help educate the public and conventional farmers about the benefits of organic food and farming.


On October 21, the USDA “Organic” seal is released for use. The implementation period ends. All organic businesses in the United States earning over $5,000 in annual organic sales (excluding retailers) are now legally required to be certified.

CCOF applies for accreditation with the USDA on October 17, 2021. CCOF is accredited in the first round of accredited organic certifiers on April 29, 2002.


The California Organic Products Act is signed into law. All products sold in California containing less than 70 percent organic ingredients are no longer allowed to use the word “organic” on the front panel.


The CCOF Foundation launched its “Go Organic” project, which held over 60 in-person workshops across California and supported the transition of over 4,000 acres of farmland to organic production. 


The CCOF Foundation launches the Bricmont Hardship Assistance Fund, which gives financial hardship assistance to organic businesses in need. This is the only fund in the nation that provides financial support specifically for organic businesses. 


CCOF and partners in the Genetic Engineering Policy Project lobbying coalition celebrate the passing of the Food and Farm Protection Act (AB 541) in California. This bill is the first to offer protection for farmers against lawsuits linked to genetically engineered crops.


On June 18, the USDA and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) sign an agreement that recognizes each country’s organic standards as equivalent. This agreement, the first of its kind for the United States, promises to benefit U.S. and Canadian producers, processors, and consumers.


After years of hard work, input from interested parties, and over 26,000 public comments, the NOP finally publishes the Pasture Rule, which established parameters for pasture grazing and ruminant livestock. It receives an overall positive response from the organic community. CCOF analyzes, interprets, and makes comments on the new rule to help producers get a better understanding of the changes.


The CCOF Foundation’s Organic Training Institute hosts its first event. Over the years, it would come to serve thousands of organic professionals looking for continuing education on organic practices, research findings, business administration knowledge, in-person workshops, and much more. 


The USDA and the European Commission announce a U.S.-EU Organic Equivalency Agreement, effective on June 1, 2012. This agreement harmonizes organic standards between the two largest markets for organic products in the world.


CCOF creates Future Organic Farmers, a collaboration among organic industry leaders that gives grants annually to students pursuing education in organic agriculture.


CCOF is recognized by the Mexican government as an approved certification body under the recently implemented Mexican Organic Standards, becoming one of the first United States-based certifiers to reach this milestone.

CCOF is accredited to provide GLOBALG.A.P. food safety certification, launching CCOF’s food safety program.


CCOF sponsors the California Organic Food and Farming Act (COFFA), which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on September 21. COFFA updated the California State Organic Program to cap fees, eliminate unnecessary paperwork for certified organic producers, and create a state framework that better supports organic farmers and businesses.

2018 & 2019

CCOF’s policy department publishes Roadmap to an Organic California: Benefits Report and Roadmap to an Organic California: Policy Report. These research projects review over 300 scientific studies to analyze the impacts of organic agriculture, then recommends next steps in advocating for policies that capitalize on the benefits of organic. 


The CCOF Foundation launches its Organic Transition Program through a partnership with Anheuser-Busch, giving $500,000 to 100 farmers transitioning their land to organic. 


CDFA releases proposed regulations for the OCal comparable-to-organic program, a statewide program to certify cannabis under standards equivalent to the NOP’s organic standards. 


CCOF Certification Services launches three new certification programs: OCal cannabis certification—comparable-to-organic certification for cannabis in California; a Regenerative Organic Certified™ program; and a Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock Program™.

CCOF begins offering Primus GFS food safety certification to round out our organic-focused food safety certification program.


In a banner year for investment in organic, the state of California commits $5 million to develop an Organic Transition Program and $1.85 million to organic research. CCOF’s policy team was at the table shaping these policies at the state level. 


The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule is released by USDA, which is the biggest change to the organic regulations since their inception. SOE increases oversight of organic products throughout the supply chain by requiring additional operations to be certified, improving organic import oversight, clarifying organic standards, and enhancing supply chain traceability.