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Rule to reform and update enforcement of organic industry remains alive

The rule with the title: “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” is still hanging fire at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

It’s said to be the single largest piece of organic food rule-making since the National Organic Program (NOP) was birthed by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. The NOP is the federal regulatory program that develops and enforces consistent national standards for organically produced agricultural products sold in the United States.

The public comment period for the Strengthening Organic Enforcement proposed rule ended two years ago, on Oct. 20, 2020, but still has not been published as a final rule. If published, it will increase oversight across supply chains worldwide with more robust enforcement of USDA organic regulations.

The rule would impact the entire organic supply chain — buyers, sellers, importers, brand owners, retailers and others. Impacted businesses are told they should prepare, but precisely when USDA might move to enact the rule is an unknown.

Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food sector, though it still makes up a very small portion of total food sales. The growth led to the need for greater oversight to protect both organic producers and consumers, say industry insiders.

The NOP also accredits third-party organizations to certify that farms and businesses meet the national organic standards. Certifiers and USDA work together to enforce the standards, ensuring a level playing field for producers and protecting consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal.

AMS proposes amending the USDA organic regulations to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products. 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.

Topics addressed in the proposed rule include:

  • applicability of the regulations and exemptions from organic certification;
  • import certificates;
  • recordkeeping and product traceability;
  • certifying agent personnel qualifications and training;
  • standardized certificates of organic operation;
  • unannounced on-site inspections of certified operations;
  • oversight of certification activities;
  • foreign conformity assessment systems;
  • certification of grower group operations;
  • labeling of nonretail containers;
  • annual update requirements for certified operations;
  • compliance and appeals processes;
  • and calculating organic content of multi-ingredient products.

The 53,000-plus word draft rule was published in August 2020, with a 60-day comment period. More than 1,500 comments were submitted by consumers, industry, and associations. The USDA has not yet responded to the comments, which would be a final step before publishing a final rule.

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