USDA Introduces Tougher Standards for “Organic” Food Labeling

The new rules are a reaction to increasing fraud and misuse of the USDA-approved "organic" food label.

Food safety officials have announced a series of new rules that are designed to strengthen the credibility of “Organic” food labels, including stricter quality control measures and regulatory oversight.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) issued a press release on January 18, indicating that the agency has finalized the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule, which sets forth a series of new requirements for food manufacturers that label their products as “organic.”

The USDA organic seal represents a promise to consumers that the product is certified organic, and has 95 percent or more organic content through the use of natural processes and ingredients. However, in recent years the agency has become aware of an increasing amount of organic fraud, in which growers and distributors are misusing the trademark, which presents a false and misleading marketing of food products to consumers.

With the demand for organic food products significantly growing in the last decade, price premiums and a lack of strict oversight has created a large-scale opportunity for fraud.

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To prevent the misuse of the organic trademark, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) is increasing the regulation of organic products in an effort to regain the trust of millions of consumers who rely on these labels to make healthy food choices.

The final Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule, published in the Federal Register on January 19, amends the USDA organic regulations to include the following;

  • Require certifications of businesses critical to the supply chain
  • Require National Organic Program Import Certificates for all organic imports.
  • Requiring organic identification on nonretail containers.
  • Increasing authority for more rigorous on-site inspections of certified operations.
  • Requires 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.

While many of the new mandatory conditions are amendments to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA), officials stated these revisions will close the gaps in an ever-growing and complex food chain supply. Specifically, the rules seek to close the gaps in the supply chain where organic products are handled by businesses that are not certified organic, and lack any oversight from the USDA or USDA-accredited certifying agents.

“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,” Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt said in the press release. “This success is another demonstration that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand.”

The new rule will go into effect on March 20, 20223, and businesses using the organic labeling must be compliant within one year.


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