2013 23.1 WSDA Organic Program Update

WSDA Organic Program Celebrates 25 Years of Organic Integrity

This year marks 25 years of organic certification services by Washington State Department (WSDA) of Agriculture Organic Program. Started in 1988, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) -accredited WSDA Organic Food Program upholds the integrity of the organic label through certification and inspection of organic crop and livestock producers, processors, handlers, and retailers. The oldest and largest state certification agency in the country, the Organic Program is entirely fee-funded and currently certifies over 1,100 organic clients and registers 750 material inputs for organic production.

Program Manager, Brenda Book, notes, Organic Program staff realizes certification is not an end in itself but a step along the way to an organic operation’s success in the organic marketplace. While we must ensure strict organic standards are maintained, we also feel that we are partners in this success. As certifiers, we have a responsibility to our clients to guarantee the integrity of the organic label for your business and your customers. We remain focused on customer service, high integrity, and value our client’s contributions to the organic industry.

As the agency celebrates 25 years of the WSDA Organic Program’s oversight of organic products, we recognize the dedication of those involved in organic agriculture’s origins in Washington State, helping it flourish into a growing sector of the global food system. We ask that Tilth Producer members join us in celebrating the leadership and success of Washington’s organic industry since the first WSDA Organic Certificate was issued in 1988. Watch for the Organic Program’s “25 Years of Organic Integrity” electronic newsletter series (which will be reprinted in part in Tilth Producers Quarterly), highlighting the efforts to protect the integrity of the organic label in Washington and beyond, and offering a glimpse of where the organic label and certification may be in another 25 years.

National Organic Program Publishes Residue Testing Final Rule

For the last 25 years, WSDA has used residue sampling as a tool to verify compliance among organic operations. Residue tests are used to determine the adequacy of an operation’s buffers, to investigate complaints, or to test whether commingling of organic and conventional product has occurred. Certified organic Tilth Producers members may have hosted a WSDA inspector for an organic inspection and had a carrot or two pulled for residue testing. WSDA has routinely sampled crops from between five and ten percent of our certified operations to test for pesticide residues. Residue testing has always been part of the National Organic Standards, but now, with the publishing of what has been coined as the “Periodic Residue Testing Rule,” residue testing of a minimum number of certified operations will be required for all organic certifiers.

The National Organic Program (NOP) published the final rule to 7 CFR 205.670 on November 9, 2012. This revised rule requires that all certifiers take residue samples from a minimum of five percent of certified operations on an annual basis. These samples can include the testing of crops, tissue, soil, water, or seeds. Certifiers can test for residues including pesticides, Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), heavy metals, or pathogens. The NOP also published a number of guidance documents that will help guide certifiers through targeting operations and crops for testing, selecting an accredited lab to run the samples, and responding to positive results. The new rule and associated guidance documents provide a solid framework for the appropriate use of this effective compliance tool.

Certifiers conducting the tests are responsible for the cost of residue sampling. This may cause some certifiers to raise certification fees, but WSDA has always budgeted for residue sampling and our current rate of sampling exceeds the minimum requirement. The new rule will not impact the certification fees assessed on growers and handlers we certify.

When a positive sample is detected on an organic crop, there are a number of factors that must be considered before determining an appropriate corrective action. Some pesticides are only registered for use on certain crops; some pesticides are not allowed for use anymore and could be present in small amounts within an organic site; some pesticides might be found in small amounts because of drift from a neighbor’s use. When a pesticide residue is detected above five percent of the EPA tolerance established for the crop upon which it is found, the crop cannot be marketed as organic. Each situation requires a specific and appropriate response, and we are pleased to see that the NOP’s guidance for responding to positive results is in line with how WSDA has handled positive results for the last two decades. WSDA staff members have been asked frequently to lead training sessions for other certifiers on residue sampling and to participate in industry task forces that educate and respond to this important rule change.

Tilth Producer member who are certified organic by WSDA will probably not see much of a difference in this upcoming year’s certification process as a result of this new rule. You may be chosen to have a crop tested for pesticide residues. If your operation is chosen, the sample will be used to test your systems for preventing the contamination of organic products. On a national level, however, this new requirement will ensure that residue sampling is used routinely to test the integrity of the organic industry. Washington producers will feel this benefit by heightened consumer trust in the organic label and a corresponding continued growth in the organic industry.

We are proud of our long-term and robust periodic sampling program, and these efforts have taught us a lot about how to more effectively protect the integrity of organic crops. If you have any questions about residue testing in organic production specific to WSDA or the industry as a whole, please contact our office.

Tags: Organic Certification, Periodic Residue Testing Rule, Residue Sampling