At the end of 2018, the National Organic Program (NOP) amended the National List of allowed and Prohibited Substances (National List). This new regulation took effect on January 18, 2019, however, the ruling that affects organic flavored teas does not go into effect until December 27, 2019. The new ruling on flavors requires the use of organically certified flavors whenever commercially available.
The majority of flavored teas on the market use organic compliant flavors. Moving forward, these types of flavors will no longer be allowed in certified organic flavored teas. Since the USDA did not post guidelines or list what is commercially available, each certifying agency will have its own set of requirements. Most have adopted the same requirement as they do for seeds; requiring three flavor companies to sign off that they cannot produce a flavor for your needs either due to form, quality or quantity; pricing and usage level are not allowed.
With only a few months left until the rule takes effect, there is still a lot of confusion about what this rule means and which products it effects. First, any flavored tea that is certified organic under the 95% rule (using organic compliant flavoring) will need to change in order to be recertified after the deadline. There are basically three options to choose from.
Drop the organic certification for this flavored tea.
Change the labeling and organic certification to the 70%/30% rule, as this new ruling did not affect this category.
Change the flavoring used from organic compliant flavoring to organic certified flavoring.
If you chose option three above, then time is of the essence. Hopefully, you have already reached out to your current supplier to check if they are an organic flavor supplier and if they can convert your current flavor to an organic certified version. If not, do this step today! If your current supplier does not offer organic certified flavors, then you will need to find one that does. There are several flavoring companies that offer these types of flavors. The one I like the best is Flavor Waves (), you might have seen them this year at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. If your current supplier can offer your current flavoring in an organic certified version, this will be your best bet to meet the new ruling. Make sure to get a sample for development testing. You will find that you will most likely need to use more of the flavoring to get the same aroma and flavor (about 20% or so). Because it is an organic certified flavor you are no longer restricted by the 5% usage level.
Once you approve your new formula, be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait. First, the flavor supplier must file for organic certification. Once you receive that, you will have to file to have your new formula certified with all new labels and/or packaging; which will change since you need to list the flavors as organic natural flavor, at minimum. Right now, the organic agencies are overwhelmed. Some are better than others, but flavors approved in April are just now getting their certificates. Remember, the NOP requires that all products be approved and certified before product is produced and sold.
Below are some commonly asked questions.
Will there be a grace period for this new rule? The answer is no, the USDA gave us a year’s notice to get this change. There will be no extensions to the deadline of 12.27.2019.
What happens to stock in inventory on that date? As long as the product is in commerce, and production can be proven before this date, there is no issue and it can be sold as organic. Items not in commerce before this date will not be allowed to carry the organic certification.
How will the USDA know if I have switched or not? During your annual application and inspection process, auditors will be looking specifically for this new ruling and will be delisting any items that do not meet the new ruling. Those selling the product made after the deadline could receive a Notice of Noncompliance; which, if unresolved, could lead to suspension of your organic certification.
But I don’t like the new organic certified flavor and the price is outrageous, what am I to do? Unfortunately, cost is not a reason to be exempt from this new rule; however, quality is allowed. If you can document that you sampled your flavor from three different flavor suppliers and that none of them meet the quality standards, then you can apply for an exemption and hope you get approved. But this requires three flavor companies to submit samples and documentation. For custom flavors, that in and of itself is a challenge and some flavor companies won’t help you if they think you are just looking to get information for the exemption, to then buy from their competitor. It costs on average between $80-$150 for a flavor company to send one sample for approval.
The new organic certified flavor doesn’t taste or smell as good as it used to no matter the percentage I use in the formula? Quality is allowed as a reason for exemption. If you can document that you sampled your flavor from three different flavor suppliers and that none of them meet the quality standards, then you can apply for an exemption and hope you get approved.
To read the final rule in its entirety, please reference the federal register here.
“Flavors The final rule amends the National List to revise the annotation of flavors in § 205.605(a) to change the allowance for nonorganic flavors to require the use of organic flavors when they are commercially available. The listing of flavors in paragraph (a) reads as follows: Flavors—non-synthetic flavors may be used when organic flavors are not commercially available. All flavors must be derived from organic or nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative. This rule retains requirements that all flavors must be derived from organic or nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative. This rule applies to products in the ‘‘organic’’ and ‘‘made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s))’’ categories. This rule change does not apply to nonorganic ingredients that may be used in up to 30 percent of ‘‘made with organic’’ products. Due to the number of distinctly different natural flavors and the pace of new product development in flavors, AMS has determined it would be impractical to list individual flavors on the National List to indicate which are commercially available in organic form. AMS has reviewed and agrees with the NOSB recommendation that the annotation for flavors be amended to clarify its use in organic handling. AMS received comments on the proposed rule for amending the annotation.”