As Organic products become multi ingredient processed foods, the organic standards are just as strict about what happens after harvest as in the soil.

In fact, we are in a unique position in California where we are under the only State Organic Program (SOP) in the country, which assumes the authority of the National Organic Program.

Producers, retailers, distributors, processors and consumers sit on the California Organic Products Advisory Committee (COPAC), which functions as a 15 member advisory board to the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, for the purpose of advising the secretary on the responsibilities of the State Organic Program. The National Organic Program (NOP) still governs Organics and accredits Certifiers; the SOP allows California to have oversight of Organic systems via enforcement, inspections, and follow up investigations.

An amazing benefit of having a state program is that it effectively allows any organic claim made in California to be exposed to inspection and verification. California accounts for more than 40% of all organic products sold in the U.S. The SOP performs spot inspections at farmer’s markets, retail establishments, production facilities, and handling sites all over the state in order to maintain integrity in organic claims. Because the SOP is a division of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the organic system is able to collaborate with the California Department of Public Health, County Agricultural Commissioners, and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Through these co-operative efforts, the SOP processes hundreds of pesticide residue tests from organic operations, allowing direct follow up in the few cases wherein substances prohibited from use in organic systems are detected.

The Organic label is strict. It works as follows:

The unqualified word “Organic” on the label means that either 100% of ingredients are organic or that more than 95% (excluding water and salt) of the actual contents are certified organic and the other 5% or less are chosen from a very limited list of allowed substances which are listed on the USDA website. These substances (like kelp or vitamins) are not available organically, but are deemed necessary to create finished and palatable products. Only these products can display the USDA Certified Organic logo.

“Made with organic” means no less than 70 percent of the ingredients are organic, and the label must clearly delineate which ingredients are organic.

Products not meeting the above may not use the word Organic on their front label, but may designate items in the ingredient statement as organic. They can be whatever combination of non-organic and organic ingredients the processor chooses. These products are not monitored by an organic certifier. In California, every person engaged with the production or handling of raw agricultural organic products sold as organic must register with the State Organic Program.

What we have today is a publicly regulated system that is achieving necessary changes in agricultural methods for food and fibers that contribute to human health and vigor, as well as ensuring the well being of a robust living planet.

The Organic label allows producers to be recognized for the superior organic products they produce, without fear of competition from less scrupulous farmers and suppliers.

California’s State Organic Program provides a much needed piece to the enforcement arm of the National Organic Program. It is through this program that Good Earth Natural Foods, as the retailer representative sitting on the California Organic Products Advisory Committee, has the unique opportunity to understand the success story of organic integrity in our golden state.