For the 10th anniversary of the National Organics Program officials are reviewing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s oversight role with an eye on reducing paperwork while maintaining standards.

Some organic certifiers, including California Certified Organic Farmers, raised questions specifically about certification processes.

“There have been some unintended consequences and 10 years after the launch of the NOP it’s time to take stock,” said Jake Lewin, chief certification officer at CCOF, Santa Cruz. “We’ve seen full support from NOP on making changes with initiatives such as the ‘Sound and Sensible’ approach to certification.USDA works to streamline organic certification

“We want to see a move toward practices instead of having producers endlessly chasing paper,” Lewin said.

Federal officials responded with the “Sound and Sensible” certification initiative. Details of the initiative have been used in training programs for certifiers already. The initiative is expected to be discussed at the National Organic Standards Board meeting April 9-11 in Portland, Ore.

“The national Organic Program began our ‘Sound and Sensible’ certification initiative as a way to streamline the organic certification process while maintaining high standards and ensuring compliance,” said Sam Jones-Ellard, USDA public affairs specialist.

“The goal is to make organic certification affordable, accessible and attainable.”

Jones-Ellard said reducing unnecessary recordkeeping and focusing enforcement on “egregious violations” are two primary pieces of the initiative. A website with additional information on the initiative is in the works, Jones-Ellard said.

USDA works to streamline organic certificationLewin said redundant paperwork drives up costs for producers, who pass those costs along to consumers. He said the CCOF is especially concerned about the ability of California’s 1,400 “small” organic producers to meet such requirements. The USDA defines a small operation as having less than $250,000 in annual sales.

In training sessions earlier this year for certifying agents, Cheri Courtney, director of NOP’s accreditation and international activities division, said one example of a sound and sensible approach is for certifying agents to only request producers to file updated paperwork if changes effect compliance status. The training presentation is available at

An example of excessive recordkeeping requirements included in a January training session described an operation with a clean-out procedure being cited because the signature on its procedures is not from the current manager. Such changes that do not effect procedures should not put a producer out of compliance or require producers to file special forms.