What this seal means:
The seal means that the farm meets the Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) standards, which are based on the USDA organic standards for crops and livestock. These standards promote a sustainable system of agriculture, requiring responsible soil management and prohibiting the use of synthetic fertilizers, most synthetic pesticides, antibiotics, and artificial hormones. For verification, the CNG program uses a peer-review system, where the farmer sets up an inspection by another farmer, extension agent, or three of the farm’s customers, instead of using a third-party certification agency.
The bottom line:
If you see this seal displayed at a farmers market, farmstand, or your local farm, it means that the farm’s practices are similar to those of a certified organic farm. The differences in the standards are minor, the main difference is in how those requirements are verified. The bottom line is that the seal signifies that the farmer shares a commitment to farming practices that build soil health, do not rely on synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, animal drugs, and GMOs, and provide humane living conditions for farm animals. Verification is achieved through a yearly inspection by another farmer, a local extension agent, or three of the farm’s customers.
This label can be found on:
The Certified Naturally Grown program is tailored to direct-market farmers producing food for their local communities. You are likely to see the seal at farmer markets or farmstands selling the following types of foods:
- Vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs, and grain
- Maple syrup
- Meat and poultry
ORGANIZATION: Certified Naturally Grown
LABEL STANDARDS: www.cngfarming.org/certifications
What this seal means
The Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) seal means that the farm where the food is grown uses the same farming methods as certified organic farms. Like the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) standards for organic production, the CNG standards are comprehensive and promote a sustainable system of agriculture; among the many requirements and prohibitions are a requirement for responsible soil management and prohibitions on the use of synthetic fertilizers, nearly all synthetic pesticides, genetically engineered seeds and crops, antibiotics, and hormones.
While the standards for the Certified Naturally Grown label are based on the USDA organic standards, there are some differences. There are fewer requirements for recordkeeping compared with USDA organic certification, since there is no annual review of records by a USDA-accredited certification agency (the CNG seal provides small-scale farmers with an alternative certification system that has fewer requirements for recordkeeping and lower certification costs). See below for more information about the CNG verification process.
Other differences between CNG and USDA organic standards include some additional requirements for CNG. Land that was planted to an established apple orchard prior to 1965 is not eligible for CNG status without a soil test for heavy metal contamination, for example. For livestock, the CNG program has additional standards to ensure chickens have adequate space outdoors to move freely.
For honey, the Certified Naturally Grown program developed its own standards rather than basing them on the USDA organic standards, since no federal organic standards exist for apiculture. The CNG standards focus on the health of honeybees and the sustainability of beekeeping.
A CLOSER LOOK BEHIND THE STANDARDS
The standards prohibit raising laying hens in cages and require an indoor space that grants each chicken an area of at least approximately 17 by 15 inches (1.75 square feet), and an outdoor area that grants each chicken at least 2 by 2.5 feet of space (5 square feet). If hens are raised in mobile housing and moved to fresh pasture daily, the outdoor space requirement is at least 2 square feet per bird. These minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements exceed industry standards and also exceed the USDA organic standards, which do not set minimum space requirements for livestock. The standards do not prohibit beak trimming and forced molting and do not include humane handling requirements.
Dairy cows have to spend most of their time on pasture during the growing season, with a minimum of 120 days per year spent grazing on pasture (more in areas with a longer growing season). This requirement is similar to those in USDA organic standards.
Meat and poultry
Animals raised to produce meat and poultry have to be provided living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of the animals. This requirement is the same as the USDA organic standards. Animals have to be provided with access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment. There are additional CNG requirements that are not in the USDA organic standards.
For chickens, each bird has to be provided with at least 5 square feet of outdoor space, or 2 square feet if housed in mobile housing and moved to fresh pasture daily.
For pigs, the animals have to be given access to a wallow and sheltered area that is large enough for all pigs to lie down at the same time. Living conditions must allow natural rooting behaviors in the ground when outdoors. If pigs are temporarily kept indoors due to permitted exceptions, they must have access to materials such as straw, sawdust, or wood chips in which they can root.
Drug use in animal agriculture
The standards prohibit administering animal drugs to promote growth, including hormones. Animals that are treated with antibiotics cannot be sold as Certified Naturally Grown.
Animal byproducts in animal feed
Slaughter byproducts in animal feed are prohibited.
The standards prohibit the use of nearly all synthetic pesticides and require that producers use management practices to prevent pests, weeds, and diseases. These management practices include but are not limited to crop rotation, sanitation measures to remove disease vectors, weed seeds and habitat for pest organisms, and cultural practices that enhance crop health.When these practices fail, the producer can use an approved pesticide.
Most pesticides are not approved; farmers would never be allowed to use common synthetic pesticides that raise concerns about human and environmental health, such as glyphosate, atrazine, 2,4-D, chlorpyrifos, and neonicotinoids.
Planting genetically engineered crops is prohibited. Livestock feed must be free from GMOs.
Is the seal verified?
Yes. Rather than rely on independent certification agencies, the Certified Naturally Grown program uses the participatory guarantee model (PGS) that relies on inspections carried out by other farmers, the farm’s customers, educators, or others.
Producers submit an application for certification with the Certified Naturally Grown program, whose staff review the application. If the production practices outlined in the application meet the standards, the application is approved, and the producer arranges an on-farm inspection, which has to be performed within two growing season months.
The on-farm inspection is not conducted by a professional inspector working for a certification agency, but rather by one of the following:
- Another producer certified by Certified Naturally Grown
- Another producer using “natural practices”
- Extension agents, SWCD agents, and master gardeners
- Three or more customers
- Educators, such as someone who teaches courses on natural farming practices
There is no possibility of unannounced inspections and no requirements for testing (such as testing for prohibited materials) to verify compliance.
Is the meaning of the seal consistent?
Yes. The standards are clear and consistent, and farmers have to meet all the requirements in the standards to be certified.
Are the standards publicly available?
Yes. Standards are available on the Certified Naturally Grown website.
Is the organization free from conflict of interest?
Standards development: Yes. Final decisions regarding standards development and updates are made by the board of directors. The organization has a policy that prohibits voting by board members who have an interest in the outcome of the vote.
Verification: Yes. Inspections are conducted by other farmers, educators, extension agents, or farm customers. To minimize conflict of interest, inspections by employees, interns, or family members are not accepted, nor are inspections by farmers who “trade” inspections (where Farmer A inspects Farmer B, and Farmer B inspects Farmer A). Inspections by a variety of parties are encouraged.
Were the standards developed with broad public and industry input?
The Certified Naturally Grown standards for livestock and produce are based on the federal organic standards, which were developed with broad public and industry input. Standards of the Certified Naturally Grown program that are not based on the USDA organic requirements are developed with farmer input, and drafts of updates to the standards are published on the website for public review.