Setting the stage for 2018 , USDA announced its “Principles for Organic:” 1) Protect the integrity of the USDA Organic seal; 2) Deliver efficient and effective oversight of organic production practices, to ensure organic products meet consistent standards. These principles largely translate to where the lion’s share of USDA’s time and resources are being directed--increased oversight and enforcement to curb fraudulent organic imports.
USDA enforcement and oversight
In July 2018, NOP released an Organic Import Oversight report in response to the 2017 recommendations from USDA’s Office of the Inspector General addressing the need for increased oversight of international trade arrangements and imported organic products. The report describes the activities taken to date by USDA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The report also identifies opportunities for future collaboration between these agencies. Notable actions taken in 2018 include the development of additional training for certifiers, inspectors and reviewers with an increased emphasis on key regulatory requirements for the oversight of complex operations; increased collaboration with APHIS and CBP on import oversight initiatives; increased reporting of enforcement actions; initiation of a pasture surveillance project, where USDA conducts unannounced visits with high risk dairies to assess compliance with the pasture standards; the development of the Organic Integrity Learning Center, a new resource for professional development and continuing education training that will focus on strengthening organic control system; and laying the ground work for NOP enforcement rulemaking (see below). NOP also released two Policy Memos to certifiers and industry, one titled “Impact of Fumigation and Irradiation Requirements on Organic Imports” and the other titled “Impact of Prohibited Grain Seed Regulations on Organic Imports.” It also released interim instruction on Maintaining Integrity of Organic Imports. The full report along with more information on NOP enforcement work can be found on NOP’s website.
NOP town hall webinar and enforcement rulemaking
NOP will be releasing a proposed rule that sets out to strengthen the organic regulations in multiple areas where increased oversight and enforcement are needed. In July 2018, NOP hosted an interactive webinar to inform the public of the organic integrity topic areas that will be addressed and to give organic stakeholders an early engagement opportunity to help inform the proposed rule. In response to the webinar, the Organic Trade Association convened a task force and submitted comments to USDA outlining its top ten priorities for boosting the integrity of the global organic market. The comments were filed to help shape the proposed rule that will be published in spring 2019, and to help craft a fair and effective final rule that will protect organic trade and the USDA Organic label. The anticipated proposed rule will be one of the largest pieces of single rulemaking in the history of NOP. The proposed rule will cover at least 10 major topic areas related to oversight and enforcement that were largely shaped by the Organic Trade Association’s Farm Bill priorities, NOSB recommendations, public comments and a nine-member Imports Integrity Panel of industry and trade experts, certifiers and inspectors convened for the spring 2018 NOSB meeting.
GMO food disclosure standard misses the mark
On December 21, USDA published its final rule establishing for the first time the new National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, with an effective date of Feb. 19, 2019. The implementation date is Jan. 1, 2020, with extended implementation for small food manufacturers of Jan. 1, 2021. The long-awaited GMO labeling rule, however, falls short of what consumers have been seeking. The Organic Trade Association, deeply disappointed by the final rule, called on companies voluntarily to act on their own to provide full disclosures about GMO content on their food products. USDA’s final GMO labeling regulation does not satisfy consumers’ right to know if a food is genetically modified, and USDA has not delivered a meaningful rule that is accessible to the American public. Fortunately, the regulation creates an exception for organic products, as it should, so organic companies are not burdened with compliance with the regulation. The final GMO labeling rule allows certified organic products to use absence claims such as "not genetically engineered" and "non-GMO." Organic prohibits GMO inputs so you can look for the USDA Organic label if you want to avoid GMOs.
The Organic Trade Association’s regulatory staff will continue to focus on actions that inform USDA in its rulemaking activities and provide its members with opportunities to develop and adopt best practices that will advance organic standards and help ensure consumer trust. Priority topic areas for organic farmers, handlers, processors, retailers and others to look for include:
Crop and livestock producers:
- Sustainability requirements for farm inputs derived from aquatic plants of marine ecosystems (e.g. kelp fertilizers)
- Protecting genetic integrity of seed grown on organic land
- Excluded methods (GMO) terminology and determinations
Food & non-food handlers and processors:
- NOSB recommendation to add Pullulan to the National List for encapsulated dietary supplements (Organic Trade Association petition)
All organic operations:
- NOP enforcement rulemaking (excluded operations, grower groups, residue testing, inspector and certifier oversight and more!)
- NOSB 2021 Sunset Review (carried out in 2019)
To stay abreast of all organic regulatory developments, check the Organic Trade Association’s website regularly, look for our weekly News Flash or contact Gwendolyn Wyard. //