The organic industry is celebrating USDA’s final rule to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling and sale of organic products.
The Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule is the most significant rule and change to USDA’s organic regulations since the National Organic Program was established in 2001, Jenny Moffitt, USDA under secretary, said during a virtual press conference on Jan. 18.
“Primarily, it safeguards the organic industry, the integrity of organic products, so both consumers as well as producers are operating in a fair and level playing field,” she said.
“It reduces fraud in the organic market and improves compliance for organic imports,” she said.
The rule incorporates mandates from the 2018 Farm Bill, other industry requests and recommendations from the National Organic Standards Board.
“It ensures critical oversight of portions of the organic supply chain to maintain consumers’ trust in the organic label,” she said.
It addresses much-needed facets to strengthen and grow the organic industry and build partnerships in local, regional, national and international markets, she said.
The industry is changing, and it’s important organic standards adapt to build and maintain consumer trust in the organic seal, she said.
The final rule supports strong organic control systems, improves farm-to-market traceability, increases import oversight authority and provides robust enforcement of the organic regulations.
The National Organic Coalition applauded USDA for its work to bring the rule to completion. “Organic producers’ livelihoods depend on strong and consistent enforcement of organic regulations,” said Abby Youngblood, the coalition’s executive director.
“For more than a decade, operations have been undercut by fraudulent products that have no business carrying the organic seal. NOC strongly supports provisions in this rule that will give USDA and certification agencies more authority to crack down on bad actors,” she said.
The Organic Trade Association said in a statement the regulation will have significant and far-reaching impacts on the organic sector and do much to deter and detect organic fraud and protect organic integrity throughout the supply chain.
“The rule closes gaps in current organic regulations and builds consistent certification practices to prevent fraud and improve the transparency and traceability of organic products. Fraud in the organic system — wherever it occurs — harms the entire organic sector and shakes the trust of consumers in organic,” the association said in the statement.
National Organic Program enforcement and stopping import fraud has been a top priority for organic farmers, said Kate Mendenhall, executive director of Organic Farmers Association.
“U.S. organic farmers and consumers will both benefit from a quick and strong implementation of the SOE Rule. … This is a huge win for organic farmers,” she said.
USDA’s National Organic Program has struggled to oversee the rapidly growing $63 billion U.S. organic industry. Increasing volumes of imported organic grains and schemes to sell fraudulent organic products have caused significant economic harm to U.S. organic farmers, according to the association.
“U.S. organic farmers have desperately needed stronger NOP enforcement on fraud,” said Oren Holle, president of OFARM, an organic grain and livestock cooperative.
Those affected by the final rule must be in compliance by March 2024.