The Arbiter of Organic

Look for the "OMRI Listed" seal as an assurance of organic compliance.

April 6, 2012

The OMRI listed logo designates brand-name products and generic materials that are approved for use in organic farming and gardening.

Foods that bear the "USDA Organic" label have rightfully earned a reputation for being carefully monitored and reliable. Organic certifiers annually inspect each producer, auditing operating procedures and record keeping and ensuring that all standards set by the USDA's National Organic Program have been met. Producers of organic foods must retain detailed records showing that only approved fertilizers, soil amendments, and other inputs have been used on the land. But how does a farmer or certifier know which fertilizers and pesticides meet National Organic Program specifications? The answer is OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute.

OMRI existed before there was a federal government body to oversee organics, yet many consumers are unaware of this critical nonprofit organization. Unlike certifiers, OMRI focuses solely on agricultural inputs, which include such necessities as nonsynthetic fertilizers, soil amendments, and naturally derived pest-control products. Farmers, food processors, and certifiers rely on the OMRI Products List and OMRI Generic Materials List, databases of products and substances that are approved for use on certified-organic land. Savvy consumers are catching on, looking for the OMRI seal on the input products they use at home to keep their gardens truly organic.


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OMRI began in 1997 as a partnership of certifiers who realized that one centralized list was the best way to keep track of products for organic use. As a first step, OMRI created a list of allowed and prohibited generic materials—potential ingredients in farming and livestock production, such as sphagnum peat moss and Epsom salts. The OMRI Generic Materials List enjoys worldwide circulation and use as a trusted index of materials for organics. OMRI then extended its reviews to brand-name products, resulting in the OMRI Products List. The two lists, available online and in print, are continually updated.

This label appears on foods and fibers that have been grown on certified-organic land, using organic inputs and processing facilities.

OMRI is the leading input reviewer in the United States, with 2,300 products and growing. This success can be attributed in part to high-quality, consistent professional reviews. With required testing for heavy metals, and lab results to support nutrient claims, OMRI always takes the most conservative stance in product decisions. OMRI's annual renewals and product change notifications also reduce fraud by verifying that each product formula remains compliant.

When an organic farmer wants to use a new product, his or her certifier can either review the product or accept the decision of an organization such as OMRI. Since products are always changing, certifiers who conduct their own reviews must often collect new information each time a grower wants to use it. This adds significant time and cost for both the certifier and the grower. It's easy to understand why OMRI Listed products are the preferred option for many farmers, processors, and certifiers.

The choice is more complicated for home gardeners. Certifiers don't inspect our yards for organic compliance, and it's easy to be confused and misled by product labels. Claims such as "organic" and "natural" on gardening products are, for the most part, not regulated. When a fertilizer package includes these words, it can simply mean that it contains carbon-based matter or some natural ingredients. It does not necessarily show that the product is free from toxic and persistent chemicals or that it is appropriate for an organic garden.

Whether you're a home gardener choosing organic, or a professional organic producer, remember that verified products for organic use will usually carry some sort of seal to support label claims. Be wary of misleading labels, and if you want to be sure a product is appropriate for organics, look for the OMRI seal. Before heading to the garden store, search the products and generic materials lists at, or download the products list, to help you find the right inputs for your organic garden.

Peggy Miars is the executive director and CEO of OMRI, the Organic Materials Review Institute.