Recognizing that “certifying agents have interpreted the requirements for calculating the percent of organic ingredients differently,” the USDA recently published its draft guidance “Calculating the Percentage of Organic Ingredients in Multi-Ingredient Products (NOP 5037).” This draft guidance seeks to clarify section 205.302 of the organic regulations, which has apparently been inconsistently applied by certifiers.

Some things to note from a first read of the draft guidance:

  • The draft guidance clarifies that, in the case of a multi-ingredient product, a “100% organic” final product is only possible if ALL of the multi-ingredient ingredients (I guess you can call them “sub ingredients”) are confirmed to be 100% organic.
  • Keep in mind that: AN ORGANIC LABELING CATEGORY IS NOT THE SAME AS PERCENTAGE OF ORGANIC INGREDIENTS (except, of course, in the “100% organic” labeling category) and the “Organic” labeling category is only guaranteed as 95% organic content.
  • So, when determining percentage of organic of product to be certified, you must account for exact organic content in each multi-ingredient ingredient used in the final product.
  • If you cannot account for the exact organic content, you must default to the 95% or 70% labeling category for multi-ingredient ingredients.

Additionally, the NOP has reiterated and clarified the following in performing your calculations:

  • Do not include ADDED water and salt in multi-ingredient ingredients.
  • Follow 205.302 to determine the percentage of organic of multi-ingredient ingredients.
  • Ingredient suppliers must provide confirmation documentation of the percentage.
  • Raw agricultural ingredients and MOST single-ingredient ingredients certified as “organic” can be considered to have 100% organic content without additional verification documentation.

Bottom line, this draft guidance is a good thing, as defaulting to 95% organic or 70% organic for multi-ingredient ingredients will minimize hassle of formulating final product organic percentage, if the calculation determines the final product to meet the desired organic labeling category, e.g. “organic.” If necessary, you can use actual organic content of ingredients to do the calculation for final product. NOP5037 also provides guidance on when to include or exclude water when calculating for products with concentrated juice ingredients, clarifies the use of salts and salt additives (must be on the National List), and gives some great examples in the appendix.

As of now, this is still draft guidance. Regardless of how it ends up, this helps inform those in the industry about how the NOP views this important, and complex, part of the regulations. If you have something to say on this topic: AMS is accepting comments on this draft guidance until Feb. 6, 2016. If you would like to comment, visit www.regulations.gov. Or, if you have questions about the draft guidance and how it affects your certified products, send me an email–we’d be happy to assist you with this complicated area of certification.