NOP Clarifies What Substances Can Be Used in Post-Harvest Handling of Organic Products

January 20, 2016

By Riëtte van Laack

On January 15, 2016, the National Organic Program of USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (NOP) announced the availability of guidance on substances that may be used in the post-harvest handling of organic products and in facility pest management.

Under the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA), the NOP of the USDA is authorized to establish the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List). The National List identifies the synthetic substances that may be used and the nonsynthetic (natural) substances that may not be used in organic crop and livestock production. It also identifies a limited number of non-organic substances (natural as well as synthetic) that may be used in or on processed organic products. The National List is spread over several regulations identifying the allowed and prohibited substances for crop production (7 C.F.R. §§ 205.601; 205.602); livestock production (7 C.F.R. § 205.603; 205.604); and in (or on) processed food products (7 C.F.R. §§ 205.605, 205.606). However, no regulation addresses use in post-harvest handling, i.e., “the act of handling raw agricultural commodities without further processing” (e.g., washing, cleaning, sorting, packing, cooling, storing of raw agricultural products).

Post-harvest handling of raw agricultural products can take place either on a farm or in a handling facility. It was unclear whether substances allowed in handling (listed in section 205.605) could be used in post-harvest handling on the farm, and if nonsynthetics allowed in crop products could be used in post-harvest handling taking place in a handling facility. NOP developed the guidance to resolve this confusion.

Under the NOP guidance, substances that may be used post-harvest on raw agricultural commodities include substances allowed for use in handling in § 205.605 of the National List, without specific use restrictions that would prevent such post-harvest use, and nonsynthetic substances allowed for use in crop production (without restriction in § 205.602 that would prevent such use). Synthetic substances listed in § 205.601 may only be used if they are specifically annotated to permit post-harvest use.

The organic regulations specify what substances may be used in facility pest management. If management practices fail, a nonsynthetic or synthetic substance “consistent with the National List” may be applied. NOP interprets this to mean that “nonsynthetic substances and synthetic substances” identified in the National List as permitted substances “may be used for facility pest management in accordance with any restrictions” and prohibitions. If a substance is listed as permitted in livestock production but prohibited for use in crop production, the use is not consistent with the National List. If all else fails, substances that are not on the National List may be used “provided that there is no contact with organic products or ingredients” and meet certain other requirements.

Appendices to the guidance include a number of examples illustrating the application of the scheme described in the guidance. In addition, NOP published its responses to comments.