NOP Strengthens Organic Standards

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Date

Date Published: 
October 14, 2014

On August 14, 2014, the National Organic Program (NOP) published instruction 4012 “Use of Brand or Company Names Containing the Word ‘Organic’.” This instruction document is directed at certifiers and clarifies an area of potential confusion while indicating the NOP’s expectations and standards interpretations regarding product labeling.

We applaud the NOP’s effort to address confusing areas of the standard and taking a direct and important position intended to ensure consumers are not mislead in addition to providing a strong footing for enforcement of misleading claims in the farm/farmers’ market setting.

The NOP’s instruction limits misleading or confusing use of “organic” on product packages as part of brand or company name when the product only complies with the “Made With Organic” labeling category or is not certified at all. CCOF has confirmed directly with the NOP that this also strengthens the ability for the NOP and (by extension) California State Organic Program to enforce prohibitions on the use of “organic” in farm names or farms displaying non-organic products in the farmers’ market setting.

The NOP instruction, available under Certification News, states that where a product is labeled “made with organic (specified ingredients or food groups)”:

“i. Brand or company names containing the term “organic” should not be used on the principal display panel (PDP) of these products.

ii. Company names containing the term “organic” may be displayed as the name of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor and listed on the information panel as required by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. Nevertheless, the display of such company names should be reviewed in consideration of its potential to mislead consumers about the composition and organic certification of the product. Although this information is required by the FDA, it should not be displayed in a manner that falsely implies an agricultural product meets certification requirements that it does not.

iii. Brand or company names containing the term ‘organic’ should not be used elsewhere on the labeling of these products.”

CCOF’s conservative implementation of the NOP labeling standards means that very few, if any, CCOF clients are directly affected by this clarification. However, the entire marketplace can benefit from clear guidelines on labeling.

CCOF will apply these guidelines to marketing materials and websites where appropriate to ensure these vehicles are not misleading.

NOP has encouraged certifiers to implement a “Sound and Sensible” approach to implementation which would include reasonable timelines to bring affected labels into compliance. Any labels that were previously approved remain in good standing, but if they could potentially mislead, certifiers are required to work with the client to bring the labels into compliance. CCOF will review all labels during annual certification cycles.