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Glossary of Organic Terms

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The following terms and abbreviations are commonly used in federal regulations for the certification of organic food.

Glossary

Accreditation: The process used by USDA to ensure that each certifying agent is competent, independent of financial concern in the operations it certifies, and maintaining the legal standard for organic production.

Botanical Pesticides: Pesticides derived from plants. These may be quite high in natural toxicity or may upset the predator-prey balance. Therefore their use is restricted.

Buffer Zone: An area of land designed to intercept pesticide/fertilizer drift and prevent it from contaminating an organic field.

Certification: The process used by certifying agents to ensure that each producer or handler of organic food or fiber meets the standards for organic production, processing and handling. Certification always includes on-site inspection of the production operation.

Certifying Agent (Or Agency) : Any company, organization or government body who offers the service of organic certification. A certifying agent must be accredited by USDA, and may not have any financial or personal interest in the producer.

Compost: The carefully managed process in which crop residues and other vegetable by-products are digested by microbial action.

Cover Crop: A crop grown on idle land for soil conservation purposes, not for sale.

Cultural Methods: Mechanical and management techniques that contribute to pest control. These may include early planting or harvesting, variety selection, plant spacing, companion planting, clean-up of crop debris.

Green Manure: A crop grown for its fertilizer and soil conditioning value. Green manure crops are plowed or tilled into the soil, not harvested.

Handler: Any operation (or part of one) that receives, processes, packages, or stores agricultural products. Includes food processors and distributors who substantially alter organic agricultural products.

Inspector: A person independent from the certifying agent's decision-making process who visits the grower, processor or handler being certified. The inspector interviews the producer, observes all areas of production, and reviews record-keeping for completeness and accuracy.

Micronutrients: Nutrients required by food crops in small amounts. For example: boron, zinc, chromium, iron and manganese.

Natural: From a plant, animal or mineral source which has not been altered except by chopping, grinding, separating, drying, freezing, heating, or fermentation.

NOP: The National Organic Program. The NOP was established to implement the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. It is administered by state and private agencies with the USDA acting as overseer. Often used to refer to the organic regulations as well.

NOSB: National Organic Standards Board. A USDA advisory board established to help develop the organic standards. Also responsible for convening Technical Advisory Panels (TAPs) to evaluate materials for the National List. Appointments are made by the Secretary of Agriculture.

Off Farm Inputs: Materials such as fertilizers or pest control treatments which are bought from outside sources to be used in growing crops. (To contrast, many growers produce some inputs, such as compost, on-farm.)

OFPA: The Organic Foods Production Act. This act, which was Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill, mandated the establishing of national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as organic.

Organic Farm Or Handling Plan: A written document which sets forth the producer's current methods, future intentions, and plan for improvement in all areas of production.

OTA: Organic Trade Association. An umbrella organization for the organic industry. Includes organic growers, processors, distributors, suppliers, brokers, retailers, certifiers, and non-profit organizations and individuals from the U.S. and Canada. The OTA offers information services, educational resources, legislative representation, government liaison, and promotional programs to its members.

Pesticide/Fertilizer Drift: Pesticides or fertilizers applied to neighboring land which are carried by wind or water to an organic field.

Synthetics : Substances made by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a natural substance.

TAP: Technical Advisory Panel. A panel of experts convened by the NOSB to evaluate scientific data on materials being considered for the National List.

Transition: A time period in which a farm or other operation moves toward organic certification by improving soil fertility, reducing use of prohibited materials, and developing an organic plan.

References

  • . National standards for organic foods proposed. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2000 May 1;216(9):1381.
  • Amaditz KC. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and its impending regulations: a big zero for organic food?. Food Drug Law J 1997;52(4):537-59.
  • Fisher BE. Organic: What's in a name?. Environ Health Perspect 1999 Mar;107(3):A150-3.
  • United States Congress. Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. Public Law 701-624: 1990; Title 21, U.S. 1990 Farm Bill.
  • Worthington V. Effect of agricultural methods on nutritional quality: a comparison of organic with conventional crops. Altern Ther Health Med 1998 Jan;4(1):58-69.
  • Worthington V. Nutritional quality of organic versus conventional fruits, vegetables, and grains. J Altern Complement Med 2001 Apr;7(2):161-73.

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