Organic Seed for Organic Production

The regulations under the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) with regards to seed state:

§ 205.204 Seeds and planting stock practice standard.

(a) The producer must use organically grown seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock: Except, That,

(1) Nonorganically produced, untreated seeds and planting stock may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced variety is not commercially available: Except, That, organically produced seed must be used for the production of edible sprouts;

(2) Nonorganically produced seeds and planting stock that have been treated with a substance included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production may be used to produce an organic crop when an equivalent organically produced or untreated variety is not commercially available;

(3) Nonorganically produced annual seedlings may be used to produce an organic crop when a temporary variance has been granted in accordance with §205.290(a)(2);

(4) Nonorganically produced planting stock to be used to produce a perennial crop may be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced only after the planting stock has been maintained under a system of organic management for a period of no less than 1 year; and

(5) Seeds, annual seedlings, and planting stock treated with prohibited substances may be used to produce an organic crop when the application of the materials is a requirement of Federal or State phytosanitary regulations.

There are two main reasons consumers look for Certified Organic products:

(A) Food Safety – Organic Certification assures consumers that their food is free from potentially harmful substances used in the growing and production process, and/or

(B) Green – Organic Certification assures consumers that no harm has been done to the environment in the growing process.
On the surface, it makes sense to require organic seed for organic production. However, let’s analyze the NOP exceptions one at a time, examining them taking into consideration the reasons consumers want organic products.

(1) (Food Safety test) Non-organically produced, untreated seeds for organic production of food will not add any harmful substances to the food being produced, so this exception passes the Food Safety test.

(1) (Green test) Non-organically grown seed is not as friendly to the environment as organically produced seed, thus this exception fails the Green test.

(2) (Food Safety test) If we assume that substances included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production have been thoroughly tested and are harmless for human consumption, this exception would pass the Food Safety test, especially considering that the chances of a chemical treatment on seed being transferred to the harvested fruit in quantities large enough to have an effect are negligible.

(2) (Green test) Since the non-organically produced seed in exception (1) did not pass the Green test, chemically-treated, non-organically produced seed surely does not pass.

(3) (Food Safety test) I get worried when words like “temporary variance” are used to allow something to become certified. Isn’t it either organic or not organic. What use is the label if the standards can be varied. And, since we are talking about a young plant vs. a seed, the potential for transferring harmful substances to the finished product is greater. This exception fails the Food Safety test.

(3) (Green test) Fails – no question.

(4) (Food Safety test) This exception may make sense for some crops, but troubles me because it is at odds with other organic regulations, such as the requirement that land be free from any chemical applications for three years before being certified for organic production. Fail this test on principal.

(4) (Green test) Oddly, this exception passes the green test, since the planting stock has been maintained organically for at least a year. This exception encourages more organic production due to the ability to implement faster.

(5) (Food Safety test) Why should a conflict between regulators allow something to be called organic when it clearly is not? This is a ridiculous exception and an example of bureaucratic B.S. In no case, should a consumer who thinks they are buying a certified organic product get a product treated with prohibited substances. If state regulations require treatment with prohibited substances, then those products are not organic. Period.

(5) (Green test) Duh – Fails.

This post is meant to point out the complexity and problems associated with the NOP regulations surrounding organic certification, as well as the silliness of some of the exceptions to the certification process. Let’s assume that the primary concern by the consumer for organic certification is food safety. For seed produced crops, no potentially harmful chemicals used in seed production pass to the finished organic product. So, why require organically produced seed at all? Let’s get some common sense into our regulations.

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