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New USDA rule strengthens integrity of foods labeled ‘organic’

(WASHINGTON) — Starting in March, a new rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will go into effect for foods labeled organic.

The agency announced an update to the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations in an effort to crack down on fraud and further enforce the production, handling and sale of organic products to help boost consumer trust.

The rule comes in response to “industry requests for updates to the USDA organic regulations, and addresses National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations,” the USDA said in an press release on Wednesday.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” Jenny Lester Moffitt, USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a statement.

Moffit added that the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule is the biggest update to the organic regulations since the original Act in 1990, providing a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to reinforce the trust of consumers, farmers, and those transitioning to organic production.”

SOE helps protect “organic integrity,” the USDA explained, by supporting farmers and consumers through upholding “strong organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, increasing import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations.”

Below is a snapshot of the key updates, according to the USDA:

  • Requiring certification of more of the businesses, like brokers and traders, at critical links in organic supply chains.
  • Requiring NOP Import Certificates for all organic imports.
  • Requiring organic identification on nonretail containers.
  • Increasing authority for more rigorous on-site inspections of certified operations.
  • Requiring uniform qualification and training standards for organic inspectors and certifying agent personnel
  • Requires standardized certificates of organic operation.
  • Requires additional and more frequent reporting of data on certified operations.
  • Creates authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices, and fraud prevention procedures.
  • Specify certification requirements for producer groups.

This rule could impact USDA-accredited certifying agents, organic inspectors, certified organic operations, operations considering organic certification, businesses that import or trade organic products, and retailers that sell organic products, the agency said.

Companies will have a year to comply with the new requirements, which officially take effect March 20, 2023.

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