Organic Program Updates Allowed Substances

Organic farmers and producers should be aware of six items updated on the National Organic Program’s National List.

by Dani Yokhna
Organic farmer
Organic growers should be aware of substances on the National Organics Program’s National List, such as aqueous potassium silicate, which could help them in their operations.

The USDA’s National Organics Program has recently updated its National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic products.

Under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the National List is reviewed and updated based on petitions from the general public and organic producers. Twice per year, the 15-member National Organic Standards Board reviews the requests and makes recommendations to the NOP.

The National List has been updated 13 times since its inception. In December 2011, six modifications were made.

Allowed Substances Added to National List

  • Aqueous potassium silicate: a broad-spectrum preventative fungicide and pesticide that enhances the plant’s natural defense mechanisms. Potassium silicate can be used on vegetables, fruits, nuts, vine crops, field crops, ornamentals and turf. It treats powdery mildew, botrytis, root diseases and helps control mites, aphids, whiteflies and other insects.
  • Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate: a granular product used as an algaecide and fungicide. When water is present, the compound forms hydrogen peroxide, which kills the pests leaving only water and oxygen. Sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate can be used in aquaculture, rice and wild rice fields, commercial greenhouses, nurseries, and garden centers. It treats algae, moss, liverworts, and slime molds and their spores.
  • Gellan Gum: a powder that is used as a stabilizing and thickening agent in bakery fillings, puddings and sauces. The amount of thickening can be controlled by the addition of various types of salts.
  • Fortified cooking wine (marsala, cooking wine, sherry): cooking wines which add flavor to foods such as soups and entrees. Fortified cooking wines can be used as an inorganic ingredient when an organic form is not available.
  • Tragacanth gum: provides texture, viscosity and emulsion stability in foods such as salad dressings and sauces. Derived from a plant that grows in the Middle East, tragacanth gum can be used as an inorganic ingredient when an organic form is not available.

According to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, items normally excluded from the National List can be considered as “allowed” if the use of the substance is:

  • not harmful to human health or the environment,
  • required for production or handling because a natural substitute is not available, and
  • consistent with organic farming and handling.

The Act also specifies the active ingredients, toxicity tolerances and production methods of compounds that may be considered for addition to the National List.

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Allowed Substances Removed from National List

  • Glycerine oleate (glycerol monooleate): removed as a synthetic ingredient allowed in organic production. The exemption for use expired on Dec. 31, 2006, so its removal doesn’t result in a new regulatory effect. (There is a five-year expiration on items added to the National List which requires a review and renewal if the item is to remain.)

The certified-organic producers contacted for this article said the National List changes will not impact them or their production methods at this time. However, they did complain that as small-scale producers, they sometimes have problems acquiring the already-approved items.

Dave Campbell runs a small organic orchard and vegetable farm called Adelyn’s Garden near Iowa City, Iowa.

“Our problem has been finding sources for the OMRI- (Organic Material Review Institute) certified inputs that we do want to use,” says Campbell. “Suppliers won’t deal with individual farmers—they work through local distributors.”

Campbell runs into diffficulty getting his local distributor to carry the materials that he wants to use on his farm. He’s tried directly using the product supplier but with limited success. Product suppliers are set up to work with local distributors rather than individual farmers.

As Campbell and other farmers have found, just because items are approved for organic use doesn’t mean they’re readily available to the local organic producer.

The final rule on the recent modifications is available in its entirety at, docket number TM-08-06.

Those wishing to submit a petition requesting that a substance be reviewed for addition to or removal from the National List may do so at any time. Find the necessary information to apply for a petition on the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service website.  


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