Substances for Organic Crop and Livestock Production

USDA fact sheet on substances for organic crop and livestock production

Organic certification verifies that products meet all
requirements in the USDA organic regulations from
farm to market.
The USDA organic regulations specify production and
processing requirements (such as conserving natural
resources and preventing commingling with nonorganic products). They also specify which substances
(such as animal drugs) are allowed and prohibited.
For example, the use of most synthetic pesticides
and fertilizers, growth hormones, sewage sludge,
irradiation, and genetic engineering (genetically
modified organisms or GMOs) are prohibited.
Certifying agents use a variety of tools to verify that
organic farmers and processors aren’t using prohibited
substances. These tools include annual on-site
inspections and periodic residue testing.

The USDA organic regulations allow most natural
substances in organic farming while prohibiting most
synthetic substances. The National List of Allowed and
Prohibited Substances—part of these regulations—
lists the exceptions to this basic rule:
Synthetic substances are prohibited unless
specifically allowed.
Allowed examples: boric acid, newspaper
Natural substances are allowed unless
specifically prohibited.
Prohibited examples: arsenic, strychnine

Synthetic substances are prohibited unless
specifically allowed at
Allowed examples: vaccines, iodine, electrolytes
Natural substances are allowed unless
specifically prohibited.
Prohibited example: strychnine

Land requirements. For 3 years immediately prior
to harvest, organic farmers can’t apply prohibited
substances to the land. During this transition, farmers
can’t sell, label, or represent their products as organic.
Applying prohibited substances to the land. An
organic farmer’s certifying agent must approve all
substances used on the farm. Any use of unapproved
substances—intentionally or by mistake—will trigger
the suspension process. Suspension means products
from that treated land couldn’t be sold, labeled, or
represented as organic for 3 years.
Livestock. If approved interventions fail, the animal
must still be given all appropriate treatment(s).
However, once an animal is treated with a prohibited
substance (such as antibiotics), the animal and its
products must not be sold as organic.
How do I know if a substance is
natural or synthetic?
If you are unsure whether a substance is allowed, check
with a certifying agent or call us at 202-720-3252.

USDA National Organic Program | Agricultural Marketing Service

July 2013

Processed organic products must contain organic
ingredients. Some minor non-organic ingredients are
allowed depending on the labeling category. For each
category’s requirements and allowed organic claims,

All ingredients and processing aids must be certified

All ingredients must be certified organic unless
specifically allowed per the National List. Products can’t
exceed a combined total of 5 percent of allowed nonorganic content (excluding salt and water):
Non-agricultural ingredients are prohibited unless
specifically allowed.
Allowed examples: baking soda, citric acid, enzymes
If an organic ingredient isn’t commercially available
in the appropriate form, quality, or quantity
to replace its use and is listed at
ingred606, the non-organic form may be used.
Allowed examples: carrot juice color, fish oil

At least 70 percent of the product must be certified
organic ingredients (excluding salt and water).
Non-agricultural ingredients are prohibited unless

specifically allowed.
Allowed examples: baking soda, citric acid, enzymes
*Products must be overseen by a certifying agent.
Can ingredients be produced with
genetic engineering?
No. Products in above labeling categories must be
produced without prohibited methods: genetic
engineering, sewage sludge, and ionizing radiation.

Any product that isn’t overseen by a certifying agent may
only list certified organic ingredients as organic in the
ingredient list and the percentage of organic ingredients.
These products can be any combination of organic and
non-organic ingredients.
Who decides which substances I can use?

The National Organic Standards Board, a 15-member
group of citizen volunteers, advises USDA on allowed
and prohibited substances in organic production and
handling. USDA reviews these recommendations and
updates the National List in a transparent manner.
Learn how to submit comments or request a change to
the National List.

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