Organic Regulatory Recap - 2018 In Review

Whether you are an organic fruit or vegetable farmer, a livestock producer, a dairyman, an organic food or fiber processor or a distributor or retailer, stalled organic standards development, rooting out fraud in the organic industry, and conducting rulemaking on the tools available to certified organic operations were the key regulatory themes for the organic sector in 2018.

USDA’s response to reports and incidents of fraud, primarily in the importation of organic grain, was swift and robust with no slowing down in sight. USDA also prioritized acting on National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (e.g. fertilizers, pest controls, livestock treatments, minor processing ingredients). However, USDA’s ongoing efforts on fraud prevention and its commitment to National List amendments were in stark contrast with its decision to forgo completion of critical organic rulemaking developed for over a decade through extensive public process yielding overwhelming support by the organic industry and the public.

In June 2018, USDA officially removed rulemaking on origin of livestock, aquaculture, apiculture, pet food and sodium (Chilean) nitrate from its Unified Regulatory Agenda. It also withdrew the final Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule, and it terminated the rulemaking process to establish a federal Organic Check-Off. The regulatory actions remaining on the agenda relative to organic included:

  • NOP Strengthening Organic Enforcement
  • NOP Proposed Amendments to the National List
  • USDA National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (GMO Labeling).

As promised, and just in time for the holidays, USDA on December 19 issued a final mandatory GMO labeling standard, effective February 19, 2019, that fails to meet the clear intent of Congress and consumer expectation. On December 27, USDA published a final rule amending the National List by adding 16 new substances to be allowed in organic production and handling, changing the use restrictions of 17 other substances already on the National List, removing a parasiticide (ivermectin) from the National List, and listing a botanical pesticide (rotenone) as a prohibited substance. The National List amendments respond to NOSB recommendations dating back to 2002. With the exception of the dates noted below, the final rule is effective January 28, 2019. Last but definitely not least, USDA spent the entire year of 2018 working with NOSB, accredited certifying agents, organic stakeholders and other government agencies to establish and carry out an aggressive plan to detect and prevent organic fraud. The work of USDA in this area squarely connects with the Organic Trade Association’s 2018 Farm Bill priorities and private sector initiatives, and will translate to significant enforcement rulemaking in 2019.

Here’s a closer look at these highlights and other important regulatory actions that occurred in 2018 organized by crops, livestock, food and non-food processing and topics that apply to all organic businesses.