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National Organic Program Apparently Cracking Down on" Commercial Availability" Issue

Certifiers are being told in National Organic Program training sessions to get tougher on enforcing commercial availability regulations.

"We are putting everyone on notice that we are holding certifiers' feet to the fire," said Mark Bradley, associate policy director for the NOP. "We are seeing a deficiency here."

Organic producers are required under the law to make a good faith effort to source organic ingredients for the 5% non-organic portion of certified organic products.

Bradley said there have been instances reported to the NOP where processors did not do a good enough job of sourcing organic ingredients, and certifiers vary in their enforcement. While the regulations are still general, Bradley said that if a processor, for example, is looking for a type of organic lecithin and it was not available, certifiers are required to verify that which was specified was not available. "We are giving them real examples of what is not enough" effort to find organic ingredients, he added.

Certifiers should be comparing the specifications of productions found to be unavailable with non-certified inputs used, Bradley said.

"There is a perception in the industry that if an ingredient was not commercially available, conventional could be sourced for minor ingredients," Bradley said. While that is true, certifiers have to make sure that their clients are following the same specifications that were on their farm plan.

The NOP said that cost is not a factor when processors are looking for
ingredients. Certifiers should be checking suppliers for availability. Bradley said inconsistency among certifiers over enforcing commercial availability ranked high in the "NOP's top 30 hit list".

In a series of training sessions, in California during Jan. 2006, at BioFach in Germany, and at the Independent Organic Inspectors Assn. annual meeting, the NOP emphasized problem issues that need to be corrected. Another issue is conflicts of interest, where a consultant who has ties to a certifier cannot recommend a client for that company.

Bradley said the "biggest train wreck" is producers that are making changes on inputs before the certifiers have signed off on a farm plan. There are several cases where prohibited substances or the wrong sprays were used on

Some farmers are not checking label ingredients and are using items that are on the National List, Bradley said. "This becomes a huge problem that is completely preventable," he said.

At least 75% percent of between 30 and 40 cases of suspension of certification involved improper uses of input that did not have the approval of the certifier and were not in compliance with national regulations, Bradley said.