Our full administrative practices can be found in the Practice Manual. Below is information about the certification cycle, inspections, the timetable for the certification process, sampling and residue testing. The practice manual has additional information about transaction and export certificates, infraction of standards and much more.
If you prefer, you can receive a paper copy in the mail plus any forms you may need. Call (207) 568-6030 to order.
- Timetable for Certification Process
- Review Committees
- Policy on Inspection and Testing of Organic Ag Products
- Non-Compliance and Adverse Action Flowchart
- The Complaint Process
Inspection and Inspectors §205.403
Your operation will be inspected at least once annually. Inspections allow MCS to verify that you are following the practices and procedures you state in your Organic System Plan (OSP). Inspectors submit inspection reports to MCS staff. MCS staff review and respond to inspection reports in writing, with input as appropriate from review committees.
MCS employs inspectors and determines inspector assignments. The inspector expects to conduct an inspection with at least one person named as either the applicant or the certificate holder. The inspector also expects the person leading the inspection to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the operation and to have access to all records. If there are responsibilities delegated to specific employees, these employees and any applicable records should be available during the inspection. The applicant or certificate holder may designate another knowledgeable individual to lead the inspection provided that an applicant or certificate holder inform MCS in writing as to the name, contact information and responsibilities of the individual authorized to conduct the inspection. Farms must be willing to accommodate an inspection during the growing season.
The inspector role is to be an impartial and independent reporter of your operation’s practices and procedures used to implement the OSP. Information gathered during an inspection is considered confidential and is meant for application evaluation only. Everyone involved in inspection and/or application evaluation has signed an inspector contract, which requires non-disclosure of information to any third party and forbids use of confidential information for personal gain.
- The inspector will tour the farm or plant and review audit trails.
- Inspectors may provide sufficient information to persons seeking certification to enable them to understand the requirements of the Rule. Inspectors are not permitted to provide advice regarding production practices or specific methods that would meet compliance of the Rule.
- An inspector may be instructed by MCS to make unannounced inspection visits.
- An inspector may be instructed by MCS to take samples for residue tests at MCS’s expense.
2) Inspector Qualifications §205.504
Inspectors shall be professional, objective observers competent to evaluate and report on the conditions and practices on the farm and to verify information submitted in the application. The inspector shall have professional training or equivalent experience in agriculture and organic farming and/or processing practices. MCS encourages its inspectors to enroll in formal certification inspector training. There shall be no conflict of interest in that the inspector shall be financially independent of both the farmer’s and the buyer’s interests. Inspectors are bound by confidentiality. MCS pays the inspectors. The inspector may not assist a producer by offering advice on organic practices and he or she may not endorse specific commercial products. Consultation with an organic producer for an additional fee at any time within the certification year is unacceptable and constitutes grounds for dismissing the inspector.
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3) Cancellation of Inspection
Cancellation of an inspection appointment is both costly and inconvenient because inspectors often schedule multiple inspections in a geographical area during a limited time frame. Return visits to an area are costly to MCS and may require extra fees. Back to top of page
4) The MCS Cancellation Policy
Scheduled inspections may be cancelled up to one week prior to the appointment without penalty. Scheduled inspections that are cancelled within one week to one day prior to the inspection will be charged a$150 cancellation fee. Producers who cancel the day of the inspection or who fail to show up for their inspection will be charged $300. Back to top of page
Please note the following:
You may authorize a representative – in writing to MCS – to conduct your inspection in your place but this person must be knowledgeable about the operation ad have access to everything the inspector needs to see.
You are responsible for communicating directly with your inspector about the scheduled inspection or yourneed to cancel it. MCS cannot serve as an intermediary for these messages between you and your inspector. Please make sure you get contact information, including cell phone, for your inspector when you are discussing an inspection appointment.Most inspectors work as contractors and do not work out of the MCS office. Back to top of page
5) Open Door Policy
All applicants and certified producers shall adhere to the “open door policy” and shall permit inspection of operations to determine their conformity to the current standards. This includes unannounced inspections. See the Organic Producers Endorsement (also located in your update packet), which clients must sign annually if they are to receive our certification services. Back to top of page
6) Conflict of Interest §205.501(11)
All participants in the certification program (staff, committee members, inspectors and MCS Management Committee members) are expected to provide MCS with an annual list of certification clients with whom they may have conflicts of interest and sign a confidentiality agreement. Individuals may not participate in the evaluation, inspection or final decision-making concerning any producer with whom they have a conflict of interest. Back to top of page
7) Code of Conduct Policy
MCS is dedicated to providing professional and affordable certification services to Maine organic farmers and processors. We expect both clients and MCS representatives to conduct themselves in a respectful and business appropriate manner. Verbal abuse, threatening conduct, and other antagonistic behavior that affect anyone’s ability to provide certification services or which creates an unsafe workplace will not be tolerated. Such behavior will be interpreted as refusing service and denying access and may result in a noncompliance and/or adverse action procedures. Back to top of page
Employees, inspectors, contractors, Management Committee members, Advisory Committee members, and other personnel are prohibited from accepting payments, gifts, or favors other than the prescribed fees for the certification process. Back to top of page
9) Non-Discrimination Policy
MCS does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status, or veteran status in any of its policies, functions, or activities. Back to top of page
10) Timetable for Certification Process
The process for making a certification decision may take several weeks to several months. A complete application and good communication tends to make the process shorter. An inspection should take place during production, which means that for some producers (e.g., farmers producing crops in fields) there are times of the year when an inspection is not feasible. If questions or compliance issues are identified at any point in the process, these must be addressed in writing. Because of these factors, it is not possible to guarantee certification within a certain time frame, but our advice to potential applicants is to plan ahead and submit a complete application six to ten weeks before you anticipate needing certification. Dairy farmers need to be aware that we require a 4 page “Intent To Transition Form” at the start of the 12-month transition process for a herd. Dairy farmers should go to page 22 of the Practice Manual to read more about the specific application requirements for this category of organic production. Back to top of page
11) Review Committees
There are several Review Committees consisting of volunteers specializing in different areas of agricultural production and processing. Together they comprise the MCS Advisory Committee. Committee members provide staff with important insights about areas of production, assist staff when questions arise, and help the program develop policies. Members include farmers, regulators, university researchers, and MOFGA technical staff. All uphold the required confidentialities. Back to top of page
MCS must keep files and applications for 10 years. MCS maintains strict confidentiality with respect to the information in the organic system plan. The only information that is available to members of the public is certificates, crops or products produced, grower’s name, address, email, phone number, website and marketing outlets during the current and 3 preceding calendar years. Results of all analyses, tests and test results performed during the current and 3 preceding calendar years will be available for public access unless testing is part of an ongoing investigation. Information requests should be addressed to the MCS Director and will be responded to in a timely fashion. MCS keeps information in a secure database. Paper files are kept securely in filing cabinets and are only accessible by MCS staff. All confidential files and papers are shredded when they are no longer required. If a certified operator wants MCS to release information other than the above, MCS will need a signed document stating the allowance of the release of the information. This should include a statement on what information can be released and to whom. Back to top of page
13) Policy on Inspection and Testing of Organic Agricultural Products
All agricultural products that are to be sold, labeled, or represented as “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic [specified ingredients or food groups]” must be made accessible by the producer to the certifying agent and representatives of the USDA Administrator. While residue level is not MOFGA’s measure of organic, every effort should be made to prevent contamination.
If there is reason to believe that the agricultural product or input has come into contact with a prohibited substance or has been produced using excluded methods or materials, MCS or the NOP Administrator may require pre-harvest and post-harvest testing. In addition, USDA NOP requires all certifiers to collect samples from at least 5% of their clients each year and test those samples for pesticide residues or other prohibited materials and methods. MCS pays for these tests. MCS arranges to have a staff member or inspector take samples. All residue testing is performed at an accredited laboratory. Positive lab results will be reported immediately to the NOP Administrator and will be made available for public access, except in instances where testing is part of an ongoing compliance investigation. A copy of any test results will be sent to the inspected operation as well.
If test results reveal residue levels that exceed 5% of the Food and Drug Administration’s or the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory tolerances for that substance, then MCS will report the data to the appropriate federal health agency. In the event that residue testing reveals greater than 5% of tolerance of prohibited substances, excluded materials and/or excluded methods, the product in question must not be sold, labeled or represented as organically produced. MCS has the right to investigate the operation to determine the cause of the contamination. The NOP Administrator has this right as well. For guidance on the appropriate action to take, MCS follows USDA document NOP 2613. Back to top of page
14) Sampling and Laboratory Testing Procedure
MCS will periodically collect samples from certified operations for laboratory analysis for prohibited materials and methods. Samples may include soil, agricultural products, or livestock products. Tests include those for the presence of genetic modification, antibiotics, or pesticides not allowed for use in organic production. Sample collections will include those that meet periodic pesticide residue testing required by § 205.670 – Inspection and testing of agricultural product to be sold or labeled as “100% Organic,” “Organic,” or “Made with Organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))” and further explained in the USDA guidance document NOP 2610.
MCS will develop sampling plans, as needed, to meet the following conditions:
- When it is suspected that a prohibited pesticide/herbicide has been applied, whether intentional or accidental
- When it is suspected that pesticide drift has occurred
- To gather evidence as part of an investigation
- To monitor compliance with USDA-NOP
- To conduct periodic residue testing per NOP §205.670(d) and NOP 2610
- When it is suspected that genetically modified organisms have been used.
MCS will select an accredited laboratory that can perform the analysis necessary based on the nature of the sampling and the sample matrix and in accordance with NOP lab selection criteria (see NOP 2611). Results of all analyses will be reported and made available per NOP §205.670(f). If analysis indicates a specific agricultural product contains prohibited materials, MCS will follow NOP instruction (See USDA document NOP 2613). Back to top of page
15) Periodic Pesticide Residue Testing Protocol
In accordance with NOP rules, a minimum of 5% of MCS clients will undergo periodic pesticide residue sampling each year. Samples may be collected from farm fields, on-farm storage areas, farmers’ markets or farm stands. Processed or handled products may also be sampled. Additional information on periodic pesticide residue sampling can be found in USDA document NOP 2610, which is available online or by request from our office. Back to top of page
16) Non-Compliance and Adverse Action Flowchart
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17) The Complaint Process
How is a complaint about violations of the organic standards filed?
Anyone who suspects a violation of the USDA organic regulations can file a complaint. The two avenues for doing so are described below.
- Filling a complaint with MOFGA Certification Services
If the complaint involves a MOFGA certified producer, you are encouraged to contact MOFGA Certification Services (MCS) by calling or emailing us. A staff member will record the complaint. MCS will keep confidential the names and personal information of persons filing complaints, unless otherwise specified by the complaint filer or in the case where disclosure is required by law. A complaint filer may wish to remain anonymous. Staff will ask that at least a phone number be provided so that we can make contact if we have further questions.
Examples of violations are:
- The use of organic claims or the USDA organic/MOFGA Certified organic seal by uncertified operations on product labeling and in market information
- The use of prohibited pesticides or other prohibited substances
- Selling products as certified organic from other producers that are not certified
Please keep in mind that when you report a suspected violation that it is very helpful to provide as much detail and information as possible. Answers to questions such as – Who, What, Where, When, Why and How – provide important information. If you have documentation or pictures we ask that you provide these to us. The quality and completeness of the information provided combined with the urgency or severity of the complaint helps us determine whether to investigate and what priority to give that investigative effort.
MOFGA Certification Services will investigate complaints substantiated by evidence or that are corroborated with other information in the possession of MCS to constitute a case. It is the jurisdiction of MCS to decide with complaints to investigate.
- Filling a complaint with the National Organic Program
A complaint can also be filed with the National Organic Program (NOP). Should you choose to file a complaint with the NOP, you may do so in writing or by telephone, fax or email. More information about how to file a complaint with the NOP can be found here and here.
Complaints against MOFGA Certification Services
If you have a complaint regarding MCS and its services to its clients, please contact MOFGA Certification Services by calling or emailing us. This can be done anonymously. Any complaint will be taken seriously and reported to the MOFGA Certification Services management committee as well as shared with MOFGA’s executive director. Back to top of page