Many people assume that organic agricultural practices are 100% pesticide-free. However, this isn't true. Although the National Organic Program has created rules to help keep organic free from extremely harmful pesticides, such as synthetics or organochlorine pesticides, there are some pesticides that are are allowed for use when producing or handling certified organic products.
As an organic producer or handler, you may be wondering which pesticides you're allowed to use and which are off limits. In general you should assume that most pesticides are prohibited, but the US Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) rule [7 CFR 205] does offer up some exceptions.
There are some naturally occurring ingredients, such as plant extracts, insect pathogens, and fungal derivatives that may be used, so long as they're not indicated as prohibited on the National List. Some fairly low-risk synthetic pesticides are also allowed under NOP rules. For more help, follow the tips below to be sure the pesticide you're using is allowed.
Pay attention to the product label in its entirety. Every ingredient, active or inert, noted in the ingredient list must comply with the NOP rule. In order to be used in organic production, all synthetics, even if inert need to be must be classified by the EPA as having a minimum risk. Because often, you won't be able to find all inert ingredients on a label, you should speak directly to the pesticide registrant or work with your accredited certifying agent to find out if a product is good to go.
Various organizations that can help you figure out if a pesticide is allowed in organic production include the following:
The EPA's Final Guidance on Labeling Pesticide Products (pdf) discusses how registrants can obtain EPA approval of label language indicating that all ingredients (active and inert) in a pesticide product and all uses of that pesticide meet the criteria defined in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) Rule. This is useful reading if you're interested in learning more about pesticide labeling processes.