Story by Amy Bradsher, OMRI Senior Marketing Director
OMRI was started by organic certifiers nearly 20 years ago as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that tracks “inputs” such as fertility and pest control products that are allowed in organic production. The organic standards include very specific rules for what’s allowed, including how the products can be made and what ingredients can be included. However, the inputs themselves are not eligible to be “certified organic,” a term which by law can only be applied to agricultural food and fiber products. OMRI bridges this gap by providing professional third party verification of input products, so that organic certifiers, farmers and processors can easily identify products that are allowed for use in organics. OMRI verifies products for compliance with the USDA Organic Standards and/or the Canadian Organic Standards. Allowed products may use the OMRI Listed® or OMRI Canada® seal on product packaging, and are listed in the OMRI Products List© or OMRI Canada Products List©, available online for search or free download.
In terms of the process, a product supplier interested in having OMRI review their product provides a list of product ingredients and a description of the manufacturing process, as well as lab results for some product types. The applicant pays for product review in advance of decision making, and each company signs an affidavit to confirm the information provided is true and accurate. The information is reviewed during an intensive process that can take several months, and then a final decision is made. About 15% of product applications do not make it through OMRI’s rigorous review process, either because the applicant is unable to provide the required information about product ingredients, or because the product contains a prohibited ingredient. The entire process is accredited under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17065: conformity assessment. This accreditation confirms that OMRI’s review process follows certain guidelines, including important procedures that ensure impartiality. The organization is audited annually by the USDA Quality Assessment Division to maintain this accreditation.
Input products change a lot. There are frequent changes to ingredients and ingredient suppliers, product names and company names, so OMRI does not just review a product once and keep it on the list. Instead, a significant portion of the organization’s work focuses on continually monitoring products for changes, and maintaining product records with the latest information. When a supplier is preparing to make a change to an OMRI Listed product, that company will send details to OMRI in advance for approval. OMRI also collects annual renewal information about each OMRI Listed product and company, and all products are re-reviewed at least every five years. Finally, OMRI conducts random sampling and inspections for 1% of all products as a cross-check.
Some OMRI Listed fertilizer products can be used at any time whenever the farmer needs it, including many mined minerals and compost products. More often, products carry a “use restriction,” or a rule in the organic standards about how the product may be used in an organic system. For example, before farmers can use a crop pest control product, they must show that they tried various other means, including mechanical and physical options and crop rotation. This is all verified by the farmer’s organic certifier, so it’s critical that organic producers check with their certifier before using any new products.
Growers who are interested in using an OMRI Listed product can find use restriction information at OMRI.org. Website users are able to download a complete list of OMRI Listed products for free, or use the search function to check the OMRI listing for a product. The OMRI website also provides information about “generic materials,” or ingredients that might go into a product, so that an organic producer can look up whether a certain ingredient is allowed as a crop, livestock or processing input. Some materials may be allowed for some uses but prohibited for other uses. For example, ethyl alcohol is allowed as a disinfectant for crop or livestock equipment, but it is prohibited for use as a livestock feed ingredient or feeding stimulant.
The USDA organic standards generally allow non synthetic inputs and prohibit synthetic options, but there is also a “National List” of exceptions. For example, waxed paper is considered synthetic but is allowed in organic production for control of weeds. Strychnine qualifies as a non synthetic material but it is not allowed. Since the standards are designed to evolve over time with new technologies and resources, the Organic Foods Production Act established the advisory National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). This group of committed volunteers works year-round to consider petitions for new materials, and they also reevaluate substances to ensure they continue to meet the requirements for allowed materials. The NOSB meets twice a year to vote on recommendations for the USDA, and the public is invited. The process involves an opportunity for public comment both before and during the meeting. NOSB recommendations are then passed on to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) which oversees the standards. The NOP then decides if, when, and how to implement the recommendations.
When organic standards change, OMRI is able to react swiftly to ensure that products in the marketplace continue to comply with the standards. If an OMRI Listed material becomes prohibited, OMRI will contact the company and normally offer them an opportunity to reformulate their product and eliminate the prohibited ingredient. When a new material becomes allowed, OMRI will publish an announcement or otherwise help inform stakeholders who make inputs for organic use. Those who want to stay informed can visit OMRI.org to purchase an OMRI subscription or sign up for OMRI’s free monthly eNews.
Amy Bradsher graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. She has worked in several environmental and educational nonprofit organizations throughout Eugene and the San Francisco Bay Area, coordinating programs and outreach efforts. She studied organic agriculture while working with Ecology Action, a nonprofit focused on promoting low-input Biointensive farming. Amy completed IOIA training for the USDA and Canadian Organic Standards, and she has been with OMRI since 2009. You can reach her at email@example.com.