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Common National Organic Program Violations

What NOP violations should you report when you see them in action?


Some businesses do slack or violate National Organic Program (NOP) policy on purpose, but luckily they're few and far between. For the most part, organic producers, handlers and certification agents aren't interested in making any intentional NOP policy violations. Not only because violations disrupt organic integrity, but NOP violations can come with some hefty fines.

Below are some common NOP violations that you should obviously seek to avoid. Also, if you see these violations occur within another business, you can easily report them to NOP.

1. Labeling Violations

NOP claims that label violations are some of the most common among organic businesses. That's no surprise. Labeling laws are somewhat hard to follow and there's all sorts of tricky situations you can fall into.

Some labeling issues that often crop up include the following: not listing the organic certifying agent, using the wrong organic label, for example, "organic" vs. "USDA organic," incorrect labeling on multi-ingredient products and labeling a product as "organic" when some ingredients in said product are organic, but the actual product hasn't been certified.

2. Organic Body Care Violations

Organic body care and cosmetic violations tend to fall under organic labeling issues, but since they're prevalent and confusing, we'll look at them individually.

The first thing to know is that organic body care products do not fall under the same strict guidelines as food. The NOP does not, as of yet, formally regulate organic personal care products such as soaps and shampoos. Thus, what you think is a violation may not be a violation at all.

Mislabeling of these products is a shady practice, but may not fall under a real violation. If the product bears the official USDA Organic Seal and is improperly doing so, you can report a violation. If the product is labeled with an organic term, not the official seal, for example, "Organically awesome" you can report it, but it's unlikely that NOP will recognize it as a real violation.

It's important to note that while NOP policy hasn't caught up with shady organic body care practices, businesses and consumer groups have. Many businesses and groups, have in fact taken matters into their own hands, banning mislabeled body care from their shelves. It's likely only a matter of time before NOP jumps on board with ethical, properly labeled organic body care.

3. Retail Establishment Violations

Retail violations are another common problem, according to NOP and numerous consumer groups. The most common problem called out lately in grocery stores are mislabeled products and missing or incorrect organic signage.

Other common violations of organic retail establishments include mislabeled bulk products, commingling of conventional and organic products or commingling of organic products and non-approved cleaning products, pest prevention methods, or solvents.

4. Organic Restaurant Violations

Organic restaurants face some unique violation issues, mainly due to unclear organic regulations for restaurants and other food-minded establishments.

It's likely that restaurants will run into the same sort of violations as retail establishments (shown above) but they may also run into problems if they purchase goods from a not-so-reputable food wholesaler. Supply is tough for busy organic restaurants, and it's not hard to run into shady suppliers or lose track of all that paperwork needed to verify sources.

5. Input Violations

Individuals working with organic livestock run into all kinds of potential violations. Most recently, various organic operations have been called out for unethical confinement of animals, which alone is not a NOP violation, but failing to understand and follow the access to pasture rule is a direct violation.

Organic livestock producers may also get into violation trouble where the origin of livestock is concerned. There are specific rules surrounding where organic livestock must come from and how to ensure organic livestock stays organic.

By far though, the largest potential violation for organic livestock producers are inputs. Inputs cause producers a lot of trouble. In fact, according to a recent USDA dairy farm report, organic dairy farmers overall noted that sourcing organic inputs was the second biggest challenge they face after paperwork and large-scale dairy farmers said sourcing inputs was hands down their biggest challenge.

Of course inputs affect other organic producers as well, not just livestock producers. Across the board, producers may run into violations related to use of non-approved inputs, failing to document inputs, failure to document organic seed searches, failure to ask about GMO status of inputs and much more.

As an organic grower or livestock producer, it's smart to concentrate a decent amount of time on understanding and following the National List and any other information about inputs offered by your certifying agent.

For extra help read: Can I Use This Input on My Organic Farm?

6. Newbie Violations

Note that new organic businesses can follow the rules just as well as established businesses. However, due to all the rules and policies one must learn about, new businesses do tend to make more mistakes than businesses who have been certified for a long while.

Luckily, often with new businesses, mistakes happen early on, during the initial certification process. That's good news as it gives a business time to work with their certifying agent and clear up mistakes before receiving official certification standing.

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