Organic Certified Flavors Deadline Fast Approaches

Scott Svihula, Owner of Hula Consulting

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 organiccompliant flavors. Moving forward, these types of flavors will no longer be allowedin certified organic flavored teas. Since the USDA did not post guidelines orlist what is commercially available, each certifying agency will have its ownset of requirements. Most have adopted the same requirement as they do forseeds; requiring three flavor companies to sign off that they cannot produce aflavor for your needs either due to form, quality or quantity; pricing andusage 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 productsit effects. First, any flavored tea that is certified organic under the 95%rule (using organic compliant flavoring) will need to change in order to berecertified after the deadline. There are basically three options to choosefrom.

  1. Drop the organic certification for this flavoredtea.
  2. Change the labeling and organic certification tothe 70%/30% rule, as this new ruling did not affect this category.
  3. Change the flavoring used from organic compliantflavoring to organic certified flavoring.

If you chose option three above, then time is of theessence. Hopefully, you have already reached out to your current supplier tocheck if they are an organic flavor supplier and if they can convert yourcurrent flavor to an organic certified version. If not, do this step today! Ifyour current supplier does not offer organic certified flavors, then you willneed to find one that does. There are several flavoring companies that offerthese types of flavors. The one I like the best is Flavor Waves (, you might have seenthem this year at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. If your current supplier canoffer your current flavoring in an organic certified version, this will be yourbest bet to meet the new ruling. Make sure to get a sample for developmenttesting. You will find that you will most likely need to use more of theflavoring to get the same aroma and flavor (about 20% or so). Because it is an organiccertified flavor you are no longer restricted by the 5% usage level.

Once you approve your new formula, be prepared to wait, andwait, 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 certifiedwith all new labels and/or packaging; which will change since you need to listthe flavors as organic natural flavor, at minimum. Right now, the organicagencies are overwhelmed. Some are better than others, but flavors approved inApril are just now getting their certificates. Remember, the NOP requires thatall 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 newrule? The answer is no, the USDA gave us a year’s notice to get thischange. There will be no extensions to the deadline of 12.27.2019.
  • What happens to stock in inventory on thatdate? As long as the product is in commerce, and production can be provenbefore this date, there is no issue and it can be sold as organic. Items not incommerce before this date will not be allowed to carry the organiccertification.
  • How will the USDA know if I have switched ornot? During your annual application and inspection process, auditors willbe looking specifically for this new ruling and will be delisting any itemsthat do not meet the new ruling. Those selling the product made after thedeadline could receive a Notice of Noncompliance; which, if unresolved, couldlead to suspension of your organic certification.
  • But I don’t like the new organic certifiedflavor and the price is outrageous, what am I to do? Unfortunately, cost isnot a reason to be exempt from this new rule; however, quality is allowed. Ifyou can document that you sampled your flavor from three different flavorsuppliers and that none of them meet the quality standards, then you can applyfor an exemption and hope you get approved. But this requires three flavorcompanies to submit samples and documentation. For custom flavors, that in andof itself is a challenge and some flavor companies won’t help you if they thinkyou are just looking to get information for the exemption, to then buy fromtheir competitor. It costs on average between $80-$150 for a flavor company tosend one sample for approval.
  • The new organic certified flavor doesn’ttaste or smell as good as it used to no matter the percentage I use in theformula? Quality is allowed as a reason for exemption. If you can documentthat you sampled your flavor from three different flavor suppliers and thatnone of them meet the quality standards, then you can apply for an exemptionand hope you get approved.

To read the final rule in its entirety, please reference thefederal register here.

“Flavors The final rule amends the National List torevise the annotation of flavors in § 205.605(a) to change the allowance fornonorganic flavors to require the use of organic flavors when they arecommercially available. The listing of flavors in paragraph (a) reads asfollows: Flavors—non-synthetic flavors may be used when organic flavors are notcommercially available. All flavors must be derived from organic or nonsyntheticsources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carriersystems or any artificial preservative. This rule retains requirements that allflavors must be derived from organic or nonsynthetic sources only and must notbe produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificialpreservative. This rule applies to products in the ‘‘organic’’ and ‘‘made withorganic (specified ingredients or food group(s))’’ categories. This rule changedoes not apply to nonorganic ingredients that may be used in up to 30 percentof ‘‘made with organic’’ products. Due to the number of distinctly differentnatural flavors and the pace of new product development in flavors, AMS hasdetermined it would be impractical to list individual flavors on the NationalList to indicate which are commercially available in organic form. AMS hasreviewed and agrees with the NOSB recommendation that the annotation forflavors be amended to clarify its use in organic handling. AMS receivedcomments on the proposed rule for amending the annotation.”