Strengthening Organic Enforcement Final Rule Seeks to Curb Fraud

The USDA National Organic Program (NOP) published the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule. This update to the USDA organic regulations strengthens oversight and enforcement of organic products’ production, handling, and sale.

According to the USDA, this final rule implements 2018 Farm Bill mandates, responds to industry requests for updates to the USDA organic regulations, and addresses National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. “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. This success demonstrates that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand.”

A statement from the Organic Trade Association expressed its support for USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) for making the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Rule a reality.

The association reported that this regulation will have a significant and far-reaching impact on the organic sector and will go a long way toward deterring and detecting organic fraud and protecting organic integrity throughout the supply chain. 

Related Article: USDA to Invest up to $300 million in New Organic Transition Initiative

The rule closes gaps in current organic regulations and builds consistent certification practices to prevent fraud and improve the transparency and traceability of organic products. “Fraud in the organic system – wherever it occurs – harms the entire organic sector and shakes the trust of consumers in organic,” stated the OTA.

Meanwhile, the International Fresh Produce Association said about the Strengthening Organic Enforcement final rule that “many consumers highly value organic fresh produce, and we hope this new rule allows for the continued growth of the organic fresh produce industry while maintaining consumer trust in the USDA organic seal. IFPA is committed to working with the USDA NOP to help our members understand and comply with the requirements of the final rule, particularly organic produce importers who will be most impacted by the rule.”   

What does the rule do?

SOE protects organic integrity and bolsters farmer and consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal by supporting strong organic control systems, improving farm-to-market traceability, increasing import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations. Key updates include:

  • 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.

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement complements and supports the many actions the USDA takes to protect the organic label, including registering the USDA organic seal trademark with the USPTO. The registered trademark provides authority to deter uncertified entities from falsely using the seal, which, together with this new rule, provides additional layers of protection to the USDA organic seal.

Who is affected?

The rule may affect 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.

When must organic operations comply with the rule?

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement Final Rule becomes effective two months after it is published in the Federal Registry on March 20, 2023. USDA has established an implementation date of March 19, 2024. On that day, organic operations, certifying agents, and other organic stakeholders affected by the rule must comply with the changes.

Learn more about the final rule: