(800) 444-4860 phyto@twinlab.com

The word “organic” is being thrown around the CBD category, and like many subtopics in this category, the true meaning of ‘hot words’ can get confusing.

In an interview, we asked Dave Carter, Principal of Crystal Springs Consulting and leading USDA Organic expert for some clarity on what organic really means in the CBD category.

Twinlab: So, some hemp growers are saying they are certified organic because they have other crops that in the past were certified organic – they simply grow their hemp in the same fields. So essentially, they are transferring the organic certification to another crop. Can this be true?

Dave: Yes, it can be true, but there are important considerations: When a grower gets certified for organic, they have to develop an approved “Organic Systems Plan.” In other words, it’s not the individual crops that are certified as organic, rather, it is the farmer’s land and growing system that are certified. This is important because a true organic system includes multiple types of crops and livestock.

So if a farm is already certified organic, then that farmer can grow organic hemp as long as the hemp seed qualifies as organic, and the farmer follows all organic practices in growing the crop.

Twinlab: How long does the USDA Organic Certification process take?

Dave: Technically, organic certification requires a three-year transition period for the land (soil) being certified. However, there is a lot of land in the U.S. that has been idled over the past few years. If a grower can document that those acres have not been treated with synthetic pesticides/fertilizers for the past three years, those acres can be brought into the organic certification process sooner.

Twinlab: Are there other organic certifications in the USA besides USDA Organic?

Dave: No. This is what makes organic certification so valuable. Under federal law, any product that claims to be organic must be approved under the USDA National Organic Standards. In fact, the use of the word “organic” is the most tightly regulated claim within the USDA. There are severe financial penalties for companies that use the term “organic” without undergoing the process of certification.

Twinlab: What are the differences (if any) between USDA Organic and EU Certified organic?

Dave: Yes, there are differences, although fairly minor. The United States and the European Union established an “Equivalency Standards Agreement” a few years ago that established a procedure that products from one side would meet the requirements of the other side.

Twinlab: Hemp plants have been known to “clean” soil of heavy metals (AKA phytoremediation), does this affect organic certification?

Dave: The ability of any type of plant to “clean ” soils of heavy metals or other toxins is a strong facet of having that plant included as an important part of an Organic Systems plan. Please note, however, that any land that the organic hemp is grown on will have been free of toxic pesticides and fertilizers for at least three years because of the transition period required under federal regulations.

Twinlab: What exactly is drifting? If hemp is being grown in an area where other farmers don’t use organic processes, is there a possibility that the adjacent farms “drift” and affect the standing of other hemp crops for example?

Dave: Drifting refers tot he risk of prohibited pesticides, GMO’s, etc. of drifting onto certified organic land because of wind, water, birds, etc. The national organic standards require every certified organic operation to establish adequate buffer zones to prevent that drift. The size of each buffer zone is not defined in the regulations, but are tailed to each operation, based on a number of factors including prevailing winds, water runoff, precipitation, proximity of prohibited crops, etc. The farmer includes the buffer zones in the Organic Systems plan, which must then be approved by their certification agency.

Twinlab: What does USDA organic mean to the common consumer?

Dave: The USDA Organic seal provides the consumer with assurance that the products in that bottle (or other package) were grown and processed under a tightly regulated system that prohibits the use of GMO seeds and synthetic pesticides; and those practices are regularly audited and verified by a third-party.

This is particularly important to the consumer in hemp and CBD products. the marketplace is rife with products making wildly unsubstantiated claims. However, any product certified as organic is subject to rigid oversight and third-party auditing to verify the truth of that claim.

Twinlab: Can one crop being grown on a farm be certified organic and then all other crops grown there also automatically be certified organic?

Dave: Yes and no. Remember, it’s the land that is certified as organic. If the farm is certified as organic, all of the crops grown on that farm must qualify to be labeled as organic. So,  if a farm is certified organic, the farmer can raise any combination of organic crops. For example, the farmer can raise organic corn, organic soybeans, organic alfalfa, etc. on that land. However, the minute that the farmer plants Roundup-Ready soybeans on that land, the land loses its organic certification.  

Some farmers do run split operations. That means that part of their land is certified organic, and part is conventional. However, they have to have buffer zones between those acres. And, because it takes three years for land to qualify as organic, they cannot easily switch those acres from organic to conventional, and back to organic.

Twinlab: What are the benefits of USDA Organic Certification?

Dave: To the farmer, being certified organic is a means to take care of precious soil and water resources, and to hopefully earn a premium price that will help keep your family on the land. For the consumer, organic certification is assurance that the product is grown without GMOs, and without synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Twinlab: Are there different levels of organic certifications?

Dave: There are three levels of organic certification:

  1. 100% organic: This is exactly what it sounds like; for example, an organic apple can be marketed as 100% organic and can carry the USDA organic seal.
  2. Organic: This is designed for multi-ingredient products. It means that 95% of the ingredients are certified organic, and the other 5% must qualify to be included by being approved by the National Organic Standards Board and listed on the National list of approved materials. These products can also carry the USDA organic seal.
  3. Made with organic: Any product that says “made with organic,” (e.g. “Made with organic hemp”) on the front label must have at least 70% organic ingredients. The other 30% of ingredients cannot be: GMO, irradiated, or grown on land fertilized with human sewage sludge. These products must be certified, but may not carry the USDA seal.

Twinlab: Do facilities that handle organic material also have to be certified organic?

Dave: Yes, it’s important to note that any organic products must be handled in a facility that is also certified as organic. That means that the facility has an Organic Systems Plan to verify that it does not mingle organic and non-organic ingredients, and that it manufactures the product to assure that all ingredients qualify to be included under the National Organic Regulations.  

Thank you, Dave!

It was only recently that the USDA issued its first organic hemp certification, and only time will tell if the USDA will approve organic hemp certifications on a large scale across the country.

Make sure to check out our podcast this week, to learn if organic is actually better for you or not!