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ANSI to Assess USDA’s National Organic Program Accreditation Process

Washington, DC, Jul 29, 2003

The Organic Foods Production Act, which was passed by Congress in 1990, required the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop standards for the production and designation of organic products. The National Organic Program (NOP) is the result of this effort. The need to standardize organic goods resulted from an expanding market for “natural” products, which led to a growth in the number of producers and a need to verify which products deserve to be labled "organic."

Since October of 2002, producers and handlers were required to be certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent in order to market their product as organic. The standards against which their products are evaluated were developed based on USDA’s review of state, private and foreign organic programs along with the recommendations from members of the National Organic Standards Board. The National Organic Standards Board is comprised of 15 members representing the categories of farmer/grower, handler/processor; retailer; consumer/public interest; environmentalist; scientist; and certifying agent.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recently received a contract to assess the USDA Accreditation System. According to a USDA-authored Federal Register Notice, soon to be released for publication, "ANSI was selected by the NOP to perform this peer review assessment because of its world-wide credibility, knowledgeable and professional staff and performance of accreditation activities similar in size and scope to those undertaken by the NOP."

ANSI will conduct a peer assessment of the procedures and practices of the USDA’s National Organic Program. The program will be assessed using the ISO/IEC Guide 61, General Requirements for Assessment and Accreditation of Certification/Registration Bodies, as criteria to verify the aptitude of the USDA in the management and coordination/ implementation of the NOP accreditation program. There will be two parts to this assessment; the first is to review the USDA NOP accreditation program in Washington, DC in accordance with ISO/IEC Guide 61. The second part of the assessment is to conduct witness assessments on evaluations conducted by USDA through the organics certification program.

The compliance of the NOP accreditation program with ISO/IEC Guide 61 is significant because of its trade implications. If the practices of the USDA in managing the National Organic Program are in agreement with international standards and guides, then American products are also credible. Imported agricultural goods may be sold in the U.S. as long as they are certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent, of which there are several abroad. The same procedure is true in the EU, where exporting countries must comply with the EU Regulation 2092/91 in order to have their organic products accepted. In some cases the U.S. is working directly with certain foreign governments to accept exports on the basis that the government is able to assess and accredit certifying agents as meeting the same requirements of the NOP. International acceptance of U.S. agricultural inspection and certification programs is important in order to ensure domestic producers are treated fairly around the world.

According to Reinaldo Figueiredo, program director for ANSI Product Certification and Accreditation, "By calling upon us to assess the National Organic Program, the USDA has recognized ANSI’s expertise in this process and we look forward to offering our assistance."

ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel