December 8, 2023

USDA Steps Up Residue Testing On Organics

In November 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s  National Organic  Program (USDA’s NOP) announced a new rule for required residue testing aimed at bolstering consumer confidence. Effective January 1, 2013, the rule requires all accredited certifying agents to conduct periodic residue testing on a regular basis of all agricultural products to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100 percent organic,”  “organic,” or “made with organic” ingredients.

Organic ProduceTesting is not a new part of the NOP, but the new rule specifies how much testing is required stating certified agents will conduct residue inspections on at least 5 percent of the farms they certify each year. Test results will help agents identify problems and take enforcement action where necessary.

The NOP sent letters to certifying agents outlining the new requirement which covers the four areas of certification: crops, wild crops, livestock and handling. For the most part, it is the products themselves that will be tested, but their may be instances where testing of soil, water or other environmental elements is necessary, the letter states.

To be labeled organic, products must be: “produced without excluded methods such as genetic engineering, ionizing radiation, or fertilized with sewage sludge; produced per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List), and overseen by a USDA National Organic Program- authorized certifying agent, following all USDA organic regulations,” according to the USDA’s NOP.

Before the new rule, NOP conducted a small, pilot study of residue testing. Of 571 samples tested, 96 percent had no detected pesticide residue and 4 percent were in violation of USDA NOP regulation.

“The new periodic residue testing program will discourage mislabeling and facilitate our oversight of USDA organic products around the world.  This will allow us to prevent residues of a wide variety of prohibited substances, thus meeting consumer expectations” the letter sates


  1. After more than a decade of certifying organic food, the USDA finally plans to begin testing just 1% of the finished product it certifies under the National Organic Program. The problem is that most of the prohibited pesticides that consumers pay a premium to avoid when they buy organic food is only detectable in the field. End-product testing is a waste of time, kind of like testing an Olympic athlete after the games instead of during.

    And besides, what about the other 99%? And what about all the product the USDA certifies in foreign countries like China which comprise the majority of the certified-organic food sold every year in the United States? American inspectors don’t even have the authority to visit organic farms in China, so we really have no idea what’s going on over there, and the USDA’s new plans won’t change that one bit.

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