Organic tea fields in western Shizuoka, Japan

Organic tea fields in western Shizuoka, Japan

September is Organic Harvest Month, according to the Organic Trade Association. Although our organic tea harvests actually occur from April to October, in honor of Organic Harvest Month, we are giving an overview of regulations relating to organic tea farming.

Organic farming can be defined simply as agriculture that uses neither synthetic fertilizers nor pesticides and does not cultivate GMO crops. The organic movement aims to get back to traditional, all-natural farming methods in an attempt to produce foods that are healthier both for people and the environment.

Decades ago, when the organic movement started, relatively few producers were selling “organic” agricultural products, and terminology was not yet standardized. The first relevant legislation in the US came with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, stating which synthetic and nonsynthetic substances were allowed and prohibited. When the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations came in 2000, requirements were established for third party certification and the USDA Organic seal was developed. In short, the NOP regulations require that 1) Use of the term “organic” or the USDA Organic logo requires third party certification; 2) The farm does not use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides; 3) The farm has been free from these chemicals for at least three years prior to certification; 4) No genetically-modified organisms are present; 5) Finished products have ≥ 95% organic contents.


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Japan has independently developed its own rules and regulations surrounding organic farming and products. In 2001, the JAS (Japanese Agriculture Standard) Organic system was developed, which had similar but independently-derived standards to the United States’ National Organic Program. For Japanese farmers and agricultural product processors, this meant they needed JAS certification to sell their produce as 有機 (“organic”) in Japan, AND they would need a separate USDA Organic certification to sell their products as “organic” when exported to the US, not to mention EU Organic and other countries’ standards.

The costs related with multiple certifications put up an insurmountable financial hurdle for many Japanese organic tea farmers, limiting them to only selling their teas domestically. Relief has finally come this year, when Japan and the US, and Japan and the EU have reached reciprocity agreements such that JAS Organic can now be recognized as both USDA Organic and EU Organic. This will allow many more small Japanese organic tea farmers to export their leaves and get the recognition that they have worked so hard for.

Sugimoto America introduced organic Japanese teas last year, and we are working on introducing even more organic options. For September, we are observing Organic Harvest Month with 20% off loose leaf organic teas! Please visit our Tea of the Month page for more details.

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