Oct 6, 2020
Fresh produce industry comments on proposed organic enforcement rule

Groups representing the fresh produce industry Oct. 5 formally commented on the USDA’s proposed rule to strengthen enforcement in the National Organic Program.

The Produce Marketing Association (PMA), Western Growers Association and United Fresh Produce Association jointly submitted comments on Monday, October 5, the last day of the commenting period in the federal rulemaking process.

The intent of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE), which is the most significant update since the National Organic Program was established in 2002, is to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products. The rule is expected to yield greater integrity and reliability in the organic supply chain and will continue to build consumer and industry confidence in the USDA organic label.

The comments focused on four areas:

  • Imports to the United States – Noting the unique perishability of organic fruits and vegetables coming across the border, the comments proposed quick turnaround on approval and issuance of the import certificate. Longer-term, the groups recommended a risk-based approach to certificate issuance and more close integration with the CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) electronic collection and reporting system.
  • Certificate exemptions – Submitted comments noting that the proposed regulations define the types of handling operations that are exempt, but needs to more clearly define requirements for handlers that are not exempt. The three groups proposed descriptions and definitions for handlers.
  • Supply chain traceability – Requested more clarity on how a variance in product quantity, or mass-balancing, will be handled across the supply chain.
  • Labeling of non-retail containers – Comments noted that the proposed regulations needed to more clearly differentiate between the different uses of non-retail containers, especially on-farm, and the information required on the respective labels. The submitted comments included a sample  Traceability Initiative label incorporating the requirements of the proposed regulations.

The comments were developed by a Task Force of industry stakeholders with extensive operations and experience across the organic supply chain.

The rule will become effective one year after the publication of the final rule by USDA.

Above, a sample Product Traceability Initiative label incorporating the requirements of the proposed regulations. Image: PMA

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