A Technical Information Bulletin
Northwest Horticultural Council
Inadvertent Residues on Organic Fruit
National standard-setting bodies and independent certification agencies for organic produce have adopted divergent policies on the treatment of organic fruit with inadvertent residues of substances not approved for organic production. This document provides some general information on these policies in three major markets for organic fruit.
The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) has established a tolerance for detections of substances not approved for organic production at five percent of the current U.S. maximum residue level (MRL) for that product without penalty. Information on U.S. MRLs for products used in conventional tree fruit production can be found on the NHC’s MRL Database.
European Union / United Kingdom
Produce marketed as organic in the European Union (EU) must, at a minimum, meet the EU organic standards outlined in Council Regulation (EEC) 2092/91. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and other EU member countries recognize the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Oregon Tilth, and other U.S. certifying agencies for the purposes of certifying organic products to the EU standard. You should consult with your certifying agency for additional information on this process.
As mentioned above, the EU standard is the minimum requirement for entrance into member countries. The certifying agencies within each member country may establish more restrictive standards that the producers, processors, suppliers, and retailers of organic products must meet to remain certified. This differs from the U.S. program, which explicitly prevents certifying organizations from establishing more stringent requirements than the national standard.
These multiple standards have resulted in cases where organic products have been verified by a U.S. certifying agency as meeting the EU standard and then rejected by customers based on a failure to meet an individual customer’s certifying agency standards. For example, the largest certifying agency in the United Kingdom, the Soil Association, has a zero-tolerance standard for residues of non-approved substances. In practice, this is anything above the limit of detection on the equipment used to test the fruit. Shippers should therefore work with their importers to determine the specific requirements and inspection regimes that individual importers and their customers are subject to.
Canada applies the same regulations to organic produce as it does to conventional produce, and no distinction between organic and conventional produce is made with regard to import requirements. Compliance with Canada’s National Standard for Organic Agriculture is voluntary except in the Province of Quebec, as is explained below. However, any product that is labeled as organic or organically produced must, at a minimum, meet the voluntary standard or face violations of Canada’s labeling laws. Under a determination of equivalency between the U.S. and Canada, products from producers and processers that are certified to U.S. National Organic Program (NOP) standards may be represented as organic in Canada. Additional information on Canada’s general import requirements can be found in the NHC’s Export Manual.
The Province of Quebec does have an organic regulation, as opposed to a voluntary standard. This regulation requires products marketed as organic to be certified to a standard equivalent to the provincial standard by a recognized certifying agency. The Washington State Department of Agriculture and Oregon Tilth, among others, are recognized as equivalent by Quebec.
The Northwest Horticultural Council represents the conventional and organic deciduous tree fruit industry of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington on national and international policy issues affecting growers and shippers. For further information, contact the NHC at 509-453-3193.