Feb 28, 2024
Changes to organic program aim to strengthen category

A significant change to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) aimed at protecting the integrity of organic products will be implemented in March.

Starting March 19, the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) program will add oversight to how organic items are produced, handled and sold. The SOE was mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill, responding to industry requests for updates to the USDA organic regulations, and addresses National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations, according to USDA.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a news release that introduced the final rule in January 2023. “The Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule is the biggest update to the organic regulations since the original Act in 1990, providing a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to reinforce the trust of consumers, farmers and those transitioning to organic production.”

What does the rule do?

SOE protects organic integrity and bolsters farmer and consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal by supporting strong organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, increasing import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations. Key updates include:

  • Requiring certification of more of the businesses, like brokers and traders, at critical links in organic supply chains.
  • Requiring NOP Import Certificates for all organic imports.
  • Requiring organic identification on nonretail containers.
  • Increasing authority for more rigorous on-site inspections of certified operations.
  • Requiring uniform qualification and training standards for organic inspectors and certifying agent personnel.
  • Requires standardized certificates of organic operation.
  • Requires additional and more frequent reporting of data on certified operations.
  • Creates authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices, and fraud prevention procedures.
  • Specify certification requirements for producer groups.

SOE complements and supports the many actions that USDA takes to protect the organic label, including the registration of the USDA organic seal trademark with the USPTO. The registered trademark provides authority to deter uncertified entities from falsely using the seal, which together with this new rule provides additional layers of protection to the USDA organic seal.

Who is affected?

The rule may affect USDA-accredited certifying agents, organic inspectors, certified organic operations, operations considering organic certification, businesses that import or trade organic products, and retailers that sell organic products. To see if you are affected by SOE, read the full rule: www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2023-00702/national-organic-program-strengthening-organic-enforcement

Although the SOE became effective in March 2023, organic operations, certifying agents and other organic stakeholders affected by the rule had a year before compliance became mandatory.

Tags: ,

Be sure to check out our other specialty agriculture brands