The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published a new proposed organic rule in the Federal Register aimed at providing better oversight within the sector. The Strengthening Organic Enforcement proposed rule seeks to strengthen enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products under the National Organic Program. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through Monday, October 5.
“Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food market,” Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach said in a news release. “As the organic market has grown, organic supply chains have become more complex. Stronger market oversight is needed to protect farmers and consumers who choose the organic option.”
The proposed organic rule would amend several sections of the USDA organic regulations in an effort to protect the integrity of the organic supply chain and ensure trust in the USDA organic label. Once the rule is finalized, USDA indicates that it will reduce the number of uncertified businesses in the organic supply chain and standardize organic certificates. The revisions would also increase the minimum number of unannounced inspections, as well as inspector qualifications. Fraud prevention procedures would be strengthened and imported organic products will require the use of certificates.
USDA notes that the need for more reliable oversight within the organic sector is due to the rapidly expanding organic market. Sales of organic agricultural products in the U.S. increased by more than a thousand percent between 1997 and 2019, to $55.1 billion. The new proposed organic rule would realize the new oversight authority provided in the 2018 Farm Bill. Organic industry members have been largely supportive of the efforts to strengthen the enforcement of organic standards.
“Protecting the integrity of organic requires the efforts of all organic stakeholders, both public and private,” CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association, Laura Batcha noted in a press release. “This historic rulemaking by USDA will do much to protect organic from fraud through tougher enforcement and oversight, as our program helps organic companies put into place on-the-ground systems to deter and prevent fraud.”