Organic is an entirely unique public-private partnership, a voluntary program overseen by third-party private certifiers with the added force of government oversight that has created the most rigorous and transparent set of food standards in the world. Organic farmers and businesses are one of the few industries that want the government to ensure that standards and regulations governing them are robust and stringent. But what happens when the government fails to uphold its end of the bargain?
The United States is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of conventionally grown grains. America’s farmers grow and ship out to foreign destinations vast amounts of cereal grains and grain legumes. But the production of organic grains in this country has been slow to take off, even as demand for organic grains has grown to unprecedented levels.
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.
Since the inception of the Organic Foods Production Act, certified organic wool must originate from a sheep that was managed organically from its last third of gestation, and never received treatments of antibiotics or synthetic parasiticides throughout its entire life. However, the regulatory requirement for parasiticides recently underwent a seemingly minor yet significant adjustment to accommodate sick animals in emergency treatment situations.
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.
2018 was a relatively quiet year for manufacturers of organic food, fiber and other non-food categories with the exception of a historical change to the allowance of natural flavors used in organic products, a mile marker precedent set by the Federal Trade Commission and a handful of amendments made to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
For organic crop producers, most regulatory activity took place at the NOSB level, with recommendations passed to NOP on organic seed usage and conversion of native ecosystems to organic production. A few materials were amended on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances.
Food fraud, or the act of defrauding buyers of food or ingredients for economic gain, has plagued the food industry throughout history. Although it is not known conclusively how widespread food fraud is in the United States or worldwide, it is now estimated to be a $50 billion industry for the total food market --about the same size as the entire 2017 U.S. organic market.
2018 was a significant year for organic livestock producers. Although two landmark practices standards were withdrawn, NOP conducted a broad range of National List revisions to expand the options for health care treatments for organic livestock.