USDA Releases Draft Version of Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule

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The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) has released a draft version of a proposed rule to strengthen organic enforcement. The proposed amendments are “intended to protect integrity in the organic supply chain and build consumer and industry trust in the USDA organic label by strengthening organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, and providing robust enforcement of the USDA organic regulations,” the draft says.

Topics addressed include:

  • Applicability of regulations and exemptions from organic certification
  • NOP Import Certificates
  • Recordkeeping and traceability
  • Qualifications and training of certification agent personnel
  • Unannounced on-site inspections
  • Foreign conformity assessment systems
  • Labeling of non-retail containers
  • Annual update requirements for certified operations
  • Compliance and appeals processes
  • Calculating organic content of multi-ingredient products

AMS is seeking comment on several general topics, including the clarity of the proposed requirements, the viability of the implementation timeframe, and costs—both in terms of costs imposed on affected entities and in terms of extra costs imposed upon certification agents. The agency is also looking for input on potential alternatives to the proposed regulations that could achieve the same objectives.

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Mercaris summarized the rule in a press release, explaining it would require all parties in the trade of organic commodities to be certified by an organic certification agency. It would also require all organic imports to be electronically reported to and monitored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The press release said this would “represent a landmark regulation for the growing [organic] industry.”

Ryan Koory, Director of Economics at Mercaris, said in the press release: “These changes would make a turning point in organic market transparency, the importance of which is difficult to overstate. In addition to strengthening organic regulations in general, the SOE offers to give significant teeth to the USDA’s ability to oversee U.S. organic imports.”

The Organic Trade Association (OTA), too, welcomed these efforts in a statement that noted that this SOE Proposed Rule is the largest single piece of rulemaking since the implementation of the NOP regulations. “It will fundamentally transform the oversight and enforcement of organic production worldwide,” the statement says.

“The Organic Trade Association supports strong public and private sector measures to protect against fraud, deepen transparency across the organic supply chain, and ensure consumer confidence in the Organic seal,” the statement notes, adding that several of the proposed requirements are the outcome of OTA’s legislative work in the 2018 Farm Bill, such as closing the loophole on uncertified handlers by mandating electronic certificates for all imports.

OTA does, however, raise a concern: “In an otherwise comprehensive rule… the intent of USDA’s consideration of user fees and the proposed amendment to revise accreditation fees is unclear and inadequately explained. The Organic Trade Association looks forward to engaging further with the department for a clearer understanding.”

Instructions for submitting comments, as well as where to send comments, can be found on the first page of the proposed rule.

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