USDA Strengthens Rules Related to Organic Products

New guidelines seek to protect organic integrity and bolster consumer confidence in agency's organic seal
Greg Sleter
USDA Organic

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued new guidelines for organic products as the agency looks to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling and sales of organic products.

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

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“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” said Jenny Lester Moffitt, under secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “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.”

The USDA said the new guidelines will protect 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 National Organic Program Import Certificates for all organic imports.
  • Requiring organic identification on non-retail 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.
  • Standardized certificates of organic operation.
  • Additional and more frequent reporting of data on certified operations.
  • Authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices and fraud prevention procedures.
  • Specifying certification requirements for producer groups.

The updated guidelines also complement and support the actions the USDA takes to protect the organic label, including the registration of the USDA organic seal trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark office, officials said. 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.

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, please read the full rule available here

Organic operations, certifying agents, and other 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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