USDA publishes final rule for organic certification to strengthen sector compliance

U.S – The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) through its National Organic Program (NOP) has published its final rule on the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule, reinforcing oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products.

This final rule implements 2018 Farm Bill mandates, responds to industry requests for updates to the USDA organic regulations, and addresses National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations.

NOP is a federal regulatory program that develops and enforces consistent national standards for organically produced agricultural products sold in the United States.

It also accredits third-party organizations to certify that farms and businesses meet the national organic standards. 

These 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.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative.

“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. This success is another demonstration that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt.

By supporting strong organic control systems, enhancing farm-to-market traceability, boosting import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations, SOE protects the integrity of organic products and increases farmer and consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal.

The USDA’s numerous efforts to safeguard the organic label are complemented and backed by SOE, including the USPTO’s registration of the USDA organic seal trademark.

Together with the new regulation, the registered trademark gives the USDA organic seal additional levels of protection by giving it the legal right to prevent the use of the seal by uncertified organizations.

The rule requires certification of more of the businesses, like brokers and traders, at critical links in organic supply chains, NOP Import Certificates for all organic imports, and organic identification on nonretail containers.

It also requires uniform qualification and training standards for organic inspectors and certifying agent personnel, standardized certificates of organic operation, and additional and more frequent reporting of data on certified operations.

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule further creates authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices, and fraud prevention procedures.

In addition, it increases authority for more rigorous on-site inspections of certified operations and specifies certification requirements for producer groups.

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.

The organic stakeholders affected by the rule will have one year from the effective date of the rule to comply with the changes.

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