Certification Policy Update
Certification Policy Update
Jackie DeMinter, Certification Policy Manager
Paper Pot Update- In my last policy update, I let you know about the changing status for long-time accepted paper transplanting pots. The NOP clarified that paper pots were not an approved application of paper, and sent a notice to all certifiers requiring operations to discontinue the use of paper pots after the 2018 season. They further clarified that in order for paper pots to continue to be allowed in 2019 and beyond, a petition to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) would be necessary. We have been active in work on that petition. We originally submitted a fairly generic petition that I worked on with several other certifiers and John Hendrickson (the North American Representative for Nitten paper chain pot transplanting systems). That petition was sent back to us for more information, much more detailed than what we’d originally submitted. John Henrickson gathered necessary information from the manufacturer he works with for the paper chain pots, and re-submitted the petition. All materials are available to the public on the Petitioned Substances Database listing for Paper (Plant Pots and Containers). The petition is specifically for the addition of plant pots or growing containers made from hemp paper or other paper, without glossy or colored inks to section 205.601(o) production aids of the National List. The idea is that all paper pots including those manufactured with additives standardly included in the manufacture of paper would be allowed.
The NOSB received the petition too late to consider a Proposal for the Fall NOSB meeting, but they have published a Discussion Document and are requesting information during public comment. They are specifically asking if paper pots are needed by organic producers, if there are alternatives to paper pots, and if there are any risks to the environment and human health resulting from use of paper pots.
We commented in favor of paper pots continuing to be allowed, and to request an NOP extension of the phase-out period (currently the end of 2018). We feel there are enough producers using the paper chain pot system or other paper pots to show that the paper pots are necessary for organic farmers. It’s logical that paper pots would be allowed when paper is allowed as a mulch and compost feedstock. We believe the disruption and hardship to the industry will be significant and the NOP should consider an extension.
Baler Twine Update - The talk about twine seems to be settling down as we move into fall. We worked together with a few other certifiers to develop a set of reasonable policies for how best to look at twine use. We are continuing to allow the use of any twine on crops when the twine is removed and disposed of prior to use of the crop, though we are aware that removal will not always eliminate the possibility of contamination. Any feed or bedding that tests positive for prohibited residues cannot continue to be used.
While twine in general should really not be included in feed or bedding, due to the hardship not including the twine would put on some farmers, we are moving forward with allowing untreated natural twine to be used. Plastic twine must never be included in feed or bedding. Farmers who mix twine into the feed or bedding will need to switch to an untreated natural twine. This year we are looking for your plan to make the switch on your operation. When ordering new product, labels and invoices should declare that the twine is “untreated”. Be sure to read the label and ask about prohibited pesticidal treatments. We hear supply houses and manufacturers will be sure to order a greater supply of untreated twine in the future so we think moving into the 2019 year any supply issues should ultimately self-resolve. Continue to let us know of any questions you have.
Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) Rule Update - Wouldn’t you know we are STILL talking about the now withdrawn OLPP rule and we won’t quit until we are satisfied with the end result. Certifiers are continuing our work to determine which new rules and clarifications are easily interpreted within the current regulation, and which would seem to go beyond the current regulation or would be more difficult to implement. In so many areas, the new rule simply codified existing policies and practices already in place. Our collective goal is to consistently follow the same interpretation of the standards, so we are developing a “best practices” document which will aid certifier policy development. Continue to watch for updates in our newsletter on this topic.
National Organic Program Update: The NOP recently conducted an interactive webinar to gather input from the organic community for their upcoming “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” rulemaking. The webinar provided an overview of the scope of the proposed rules and invited general feedback on the topics and data needs. The Webinar recording and the Slides and chat transcript are now available. The basic direction of the webinar was to collect feedback from the community on a series of questions geared to help the considerations for strengthened oversight and regulations. The questions were:
- What challenges would Certifiers face if required to use a federated organic certificate? Is there an alternative you would suggest?
- What should NOP consider with respect to accrediting satellite offices?
- What should the minimum qualification and training requirements be for organic inspectors?
- What specific practices might NOP consider for Grower Groups that are not already addressed by the 2002 and 2008 NOSB recommendations?
- Which types of excluded operations should be required to be certified and why?
- Should any of the current exclusions in the USDA organic regulations remain in place?
- How might the rule address full supply chain traceability from farm to table?
- How can the rule address the integrity of organic products imported to the United States?
- What should NOP consider about existing or future trade arrangements?
- What should NOP consider about the costs of unannounced inspections?
- Which parts of the noncompliance and appeal processes might NOP need to further clarify?
The NOP's Enforcement Action Plan outlines recent progress and next steps for the program. Essentially we can expect rulemaking to support strong organic control systems, farm to market traceability, and robust enforcement. The NOP’s Plan covers the following:
- Improvements underway to strengthen certification and enforcement processes include development of additional training for certifiers, inspectors and reviewers with an increased emphasis on key regulatory requirements for the oversight of complex domestic operations; increased certifier training on the use of traceback and mass balance audits to improve supply chain traceability; and research into risk-based certification models and their applicability to NOP accreditation and certifier oversight.
- Changes under consideration to further strengthen organic certification control systems include introduction of a federated organic certificate; implementation of the National Organic Standards Board’s recommendation for certification expiration dates; a requirement of separate accreditation for certifier satellite offices; clarification of grower group requirements; and specification of inspector and reviewer qualification and training requirements.”
- Practice changes for increased farm to market traceability initiated in 2018 include defining how electronic import and export certificates are used for products moving across the U.S. border, and identify requirements for the future; increasing collaboration with APHIS and CBP on import oversight initiatives; improving data quality by encouraging increased reporting to the Organic Integrity Database by certifiers; and exploring new technology to better manage data and verify product movement across international supply chains.
- Other changes to the organic standards that are needed to strengthen worldwide supply chain integrity include modifying the current exclusion for uncertified handlers so that organizations such as importers and brokers must be certified; requiring import certificates for incoming shipments to improve organic import oversight; updating regulatory requirements for trade arrangements; and improving the ability to confirm the authenticity of organic imports before they cross the U.S. border.
Robust enforcement improvements which started in 2018 include increased reporting of enforcement actions; increased use of risk assessments when examining incoming complaints so that program resources are invested where the market needs us the most; increased number of announced and unannounced inspections of complex organic businesses; initiation of a pasture surveillance project, where USDA conducts unannounced visits with high risk dairies to assess compliance with the pasture standards; and leveraging of NOP’s relationships with other USDA offices to increase internal investigative capabilities and staffing; expedite administrative proceedings to suspend or revoke an operation; and establish processes for referring complaints to the AMS Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) group, when appropriate.
Changes to the organic standards that would support improved enforcement include institutionalization of unannounced inspections by certifiers and USDA staff, focused on the highest risk areas; revision of the noncompliance, adverse action and appeals process to bring violators to justice faster while preserving due process; and exploration of options for instituting hold-product authority.
“USDA is committed to setting a level playing field that will allow U.S. producers and international businesses to compete fairly and continue to develop the organic industry.”