USDA Declares: Processing Aids Used by Organic Food Producers Must be on the National List

Date: Aug 01, 2001

Processing aids currently being used by producers of organic foods will become the subject of scrutiny at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to comments made during a videoconference sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists.

Keith Jones, program manager of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), sent ripples of concern through the organic food industry when he said: “We know that there are a lot of common processing aids that are used across the country that are not on the National List. And if it’s not on the National List come Oct. 21, 2002, you cannot use that particular ingredient or processing aid and label a product as organic.”

Processing aids include some products used in production and packaging, such as lubricants for conveyors or cleaning agents used to washdown packaging equipment.

The Organic Foods Protection Act (OFPA) of 1990 requires the USDA to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products, which the USDA has done through the adoption of the NOP. As part of the program requirements, agricultural products labeled as organic must originate from certified farms or handling operations.

The OFPA also requires USDA to establish a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (the “National List”), which identifies the synthetic substances that may or may not be used in organic production and handling operations.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is responsible for making recommendations as to whether a substance is suitable for use in organic production. Anyone may petition the NOSB to have a substance evaluated by the board for inclusion or deletion from the National List.

The criteria for adding processing aids to the National List include:

    • if the processing aid or adjuvant cannot be produced from a natural source;

    • if the use and disposal do not have adverse environmental effects;

    • if there are no adverse effects on human health and the nutritional quality of the food is maintained;

    • if its primary purpose is not as a preservative or used only to recreate/ improve flavors, colors, textures or nutritive value lost during processing except as required by law;

    • if it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by FDA, it is used in accordance with good manufacturing practices and contains no heavy metals residues or other contaminants in excess of FDA tolerances,

    • its use is compatible with the principles of organic handling;

    • if there is no other way to produce a similar product without its use; and

    • if it is used in the minimum quantity required to achieve the process.

Used with permission. Copyright FOOD & DRUG PACKAGING, August, 2001.

For further information about this article, please contact George G. Misko at 202-434-4170 or by e-mail at misko@khlaw.com.