Back to Tools

USDA National Organic Program (NOP)

Tool Category Website Owner/Sponsor Entity Type Product Categories
Standards, Certifications & Labels


The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA, AMS)


Food & Beverage; Lawn & Garden

The National Organic Program (NOP) was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide national standards for organically produced agricultural products. NOP regulations require that agricultural products labeled as organic originate from farms or handling operations certified by a state or private entity that has been accredited by USDA. Retailers selling agricultural products labeled as "organic" must follow specific guidelines for storage, handling and marketing.

What Is Evaluated?

Focus Impacts
  • Chemicals
  • Materials
  • Products
  • Companies
    • Ecological health
    • Human health
    • Social responsibility
    • Materials efficiency
    • Energy use


The National Organic Program (NOP) develops, implements, and administers national production, handling, and labeling standards for organic products. NOP accredits private businesses, organizations, and state agencies to certify producers and handlers of agricultural products who meet NOP regulations. NOP also maintains a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances that identifies substances that may and may not be used in organic production and handling operations.

NOP regulations cover in detail all aspects of food production, processing, delivery and retail sale. Farmers and food processors who wish to use the word "organic" in reference to their businesses and products must be certified organic. A USDA Organic seal identifies products with at least 95% organic ingredients.

The NOP covers fresh and processed agricultural food products, including crops and livestock. Health and beauty products (e.g., organic shampoo) can also be labeled organic if compliant with NOP.

Retailers do not need to be certified in order to sell organic agricultural products. However, they are responsible for verifying and maintaining the organic integrity of those products. Four major areas of operation where retailers must be mindful of maintaining the organic integrity of a product are receiving, storage, preparation, and display.


Farmers and handlers (which may include retailers) applying for certification must submit specific information to an accredited certifying agent including:

  • the type of operation to be certified
  • a history of substances applied to the land for the previous 3 years
  • the organic products being grown, raised or processed
  • the organic system plan (OSP) - a plan describing practices and substances used in production and monitoring.

Applicants for certification must keep accurate post-certification records for 5 years concerning the production, harvesting, and handling of organic agricultural products. Access to these records must be provided to authorized representatives of USDA, including the certifying agent.
Retailers are required to perform due diligence to be sure that the products they label and sell as organic are indeed organic. The USDA suggests procedures that retailers may establish to meet these requirements for receiving, storage (including pest management), preparation and display (including labeling). See: http://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Guide%20for%20Organic%20Processors_0.pdf

Each certified operation is inspected annually. Certifying agents must be notified by a producer or handler immediately of any changes affecting an operation's compliance with the regulations, such as application of a prohibited pesticide to a field.
The regulations permit USDA or the certifying agent to conduct unannounced inspections at any time to adequately enforce the regulations. Certifying agents and USDA may also conduct pre- or post-harvest testing if there is reason to believe that an agricultural input or product has come into contact with a prohibited substance or been produced using an excluded method.


The cost of certification depends on the certifying agency. There is an Organic Certification Cost Share Program established to reimburse eligible producers and handlers for a portion of the costs of certification.

Examples of Retailers That Use It

Most supermarkets carry food certified as organic.

For More Information

National Organic Program: (202) 720-3252 

Miles McEvoy, National Organic Program Deputy Administrator: miles.mcevoy@ams.usda.go

Other contacts: http://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/NOP_Contacts%5B1%5D.pdf

Back to Tools