New Rules Govern Organic Food in the U.S.

A major upgrade to USDA rules applies to domestic organic products and organic food imports.
California vineyards
By Paolo DeAndreis
Jan. 30, 2023 15:23 UTC

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recently released a sig­nif­i­cant update to organic sec­tor reg­u­la­tions.

The new rule, Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE), will apply to domes­tic organic food pro­duc­tion and organic food imports. It will come into effect on March 20th and require all affected busi­nesses to com­ply within one year.

The new pro­vi­sions will impact cer­ti­fied organic com­pa­nies or those pro­duc­ing, trad­ing or sell­ing organic food. The rules will also affect USDA-accred­ited agents and inspec­tors.

According to USDA, 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.”

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Deemed the most rel­e­vant update to the sec­tor since the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, the new reg­u­la­tion will require organic food com­pa­nies to gather a stan­dard organic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for each involved actor within the pro­duc­tion chain.

Companies will also have to pro­vide addi­tional data asso­ci­ated with their cer­ti­fied organic oper­a­tions more fre­quently than in the past. SOE requires more rig­or­ous on-site inspec­tions of cer­ti­fied oper­a­tions, includ­ing com­plete mass-bal­ance audits and trace­abil­ity ver­i­fi­ca­tions.

USDA agents must con­duct unan­nounced inspec­tions on at least five per­cent of the oper­a­tions they cer­tify. New train­ing and qual­i­fi­ca­tions will be applied to organic inspec­tors and licens­ing per­son­nel.

According to USDA, SOE will allow for more robust record-keep­ing, trace­abil­ity prac­tices, and fraud pre­ven­tion pro­ce­dures.

In addi­tion, SOE will require the eval­u­a­tion of for­eign gov­ern­ments’ organic pro­grams to ensure that organic food imports com­ply with U.S. trade arrange­ments and agree­ments.

Import cer­tifi­cates will now be required for all organic imports. This change expands the use of National Organic Program (NOP) Import Certificates to all organic prod­ucts imported into the United States, improv­ing the over­sight and trace­abil­ity of imported organic prod­ucts,” USDA stated in intro­duc­ing the new rules.

The lat­est USDA data shows that in 2018, organic olive oil made up approx­i­mately one-tenth of all U.S. olive oil imports. According to International Olive Council data, the U.S. imported almost 400 thou­sand tons of olive oil last sea­son.

Last December, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its 2021 Organic Survey, which shows a 13 per­cent growth in organic prod­uct sales in the United States between 2019 and 2021, with a 5 per­cent increase in the num­ber of domes­tic organic farms.


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