Below is a summary of some of the key points of the National Organic Program standards for crops, livestock, and handling processes.
The organic crop production standards say that:
Land will have no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop. The use of genetic engineering (included in excluded methods), ionizing radiation and sewage sludge is prohibited. Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
Preference will be given to the use of organic seeds and other planting stock, but a farmer may use non-organic seeds and planting stock under specified conditions. Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological or botanical substance , or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.
These standards apply to animals used for meat, milk, eggs, and other animal products represented as organically produced.
The livestock standards say that:
Animals for slaughter must be raised under organic management from the last third of gestation, or no later than the second day of life for poultry. Producers are required to feed livestock agricultural feed products that are 100 percent organic, but may also provide allowed vitamin and mineral supplements. Producers may convert an entire, distinct dairy herd to organic production by providing 80 percent organically produced feed for 9 months, followed by 3 months of 100 percent organically produced feed. Organically raised animals may not be given hormones to promote growth, or antibiotics for any reason. Preventive management practices, including the use of vaccines, will be used to keep animals healthy. Producers are prohibited from withholding treatment from a sick or injured animal; however, animals treated with a prohibited medication may not be sold as organic. All organically raised animals must have access to the outdoors, including access to pasture for ruminants. They may be temporarily confined only for reasons of health, safety, the animal's stage of production, or to protect soil or water quality.
The handling standards say that:
All non-agricultural ingredients, whether synthetic or non-synthetic, must be included on the National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances. Handlers must prevent the commingling of organic with non-organic products and protect organic products from contact with prohibited substances. In a processed product labeled as "organic," all agricultural ingredients must be organically produced, unless the ingredient(s) is not commercially available in organic form.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Organic Program