Certification Policy Update
Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule
The public comment period closes soon for USDA “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” Proposed Rule. Comments will be accepted through October 5, 2020. Consider commenting if you have not yet done so! All comments received are publicly available on regulations.gov
The USDA is proposing to amend the USDA organic regulations to strengthen the oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products. The proposed amendments are intended to protect integrity in the organic supply chain and build consumer and industry trust in the USDA organic label by strengthening organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, and providing robust enforcement of the USDA organic regulations. This action applies to all stakeholders in the organic industry, and will likely affect operations that are brokers, traders, importers, exporters, private labeling companies, retailers, and operations using nonretail containers, and will also impact all certifiers, inspectors, and foreign organic programs. This proposed regulation is the most significant to be published since the implementation of the National Organic Standards in 2002.
Topics addressed in this proposed rule include: applicability of the regulations and exemptions from organic certification; National Organic Program Import Certificates; recordkeeping and product traceability; certifying agent personnel qualifications and training; standardized certificates of organic operation; unannounced on-site inspections of certified operations; oversight of certification activities; foreign conformity assessment systems; certification of grower group operations; labeling of nonretail containers; annual update requirements for certified operations; compliance and appeals processes; and calculating organic content of multi-ingredient products. The proposed amendments would amend many sections of the USDA organic regulations to close gaps in the current regulation to build consistent certification practices to deter and detect organic fraud, and improve transparency and product traceability.
Once finalized, for clients and certifiers the revised regulations will:
• reduce the number of uncertified businesses in the organic supply chain, including importers, brokers, and traders of organic products through revisions to exemptions and exclusions from organic certification.
• standardize organic certificates by requiring certifiers to use the USDA’s Organic Integrity Database to generate certificates.
• require the use of import certificates for all imported organic products.
• increase the minimum number of unannounced inspections, and require full supply chain audits.
• require certifiers to communicate with each other regarding operation compliance.
• increase inspector and reviewer qualification requirements.
• strengthen fraud prevention procedures through improved recordkeeping, prevention strategies, and trace-back audits.
• create nonretail labeling transparency.
• set requirements for grower groups.
• increase certifier data reporting requirements to make it easier to identify and focus enforcement resources on higher-risk locations, activities, and commodities.
In addition to the impacts to clients and certifiers, the NOP will be required to implement a system for assessment of organic equivalence with foreign organic programs.
The proposed rule also includes a request for comments on a few provisions that were not included in the rule, but are being considered. These provisions include the requirement that all certificates bear an expiration date, which would not impact the operation’s organic certification. Operations would still be certified unless they surrender, or are suspended or revoked. The expiration date would be relevant to the certificate only. Provisions being considered additionally include questions about packaged product labeling, and private labeling, including which operation name should be listed on the label, which certifying agent should be identified, whether listing contract manufacturers should be mandatory or optional, and the terminology necessary for private labeled organic products and the operations producing such products.
For more information, please see the AMS Strengthening Organic Enforcement webpage. Comments must be submitted through www.regulations.gov and will be considered by AMS as the final rule is developed. All comments received must include the docket number AMS-NOP-17-0065; NOP-17-02, and/or Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 0581-AD09 for this rulemaking. You should clearly indicate the topic and section number of this proposed rule to which your comment refers, state your position(s), offer any recommended language change(s), and include relevant information and data to support your position(s) (e.g., scientific, environmental, manufacturing, industry, or industry impact information, etc.).
Should this rule become final, the implementation period will be a year. Comments should also include details on whether operations can comply with this timeframe. The AMS is also requesting comments from certifiers regarding the cost of additional actions required. While MOSA is generally in support of the proposed rule, we recognize the implementation of it may increase the complexity and/or cost of organic certification. MOSA’s comments to the NOP will contain our thoughts on minimizing the potential impacts including emphasizing the need for expanded cost share funding.
Origin of Livestock (OOL) Proposed Rule
The USDA missed the congressional deadline to finalize the origin of livestock proposed rule. The rule is under evaluation again due to complexities that arose surrounding rule legality and industry goals. The NOP has not given a deadline for when the rule is expected to be published.
As a reminder, the proposed rule published on April 28, 2015 would eliminate the allowance for some operations to transition multiple groups of animals. MOSA’s policies align with the intention to allow one transition per farm. The rule would require that transition be conducted over a single year, and all animals would be required to transition at the same time. Third year transitional feed only would be allowed during transition for the entire herd, including youngstock. The rule reinforces that transitioned organic animals can be transferred between operations, and in addition the rule would allow for organic animals to be purchased during transition. Operations allowed to conduct a transition would be required to be a dairy farm, milking animals. Finally, the rule would clarify that fiber bearing animals must be organic from the last third of gestation for the fiber to be considered organic.
National Organic Program Organic Integrity Learning Center
Updates made to the Organic Integrity Learning Center (OILC) offer expanded features including the generation of course completion certificates and transcript printing. Completed courses are moved to a read only archived section of the learning center. This resource was developed by the NOP to provide free online training to support the professional development of organic professionals working to protect organic integrity. If you have an Account: Access the Learning Center. If you need a Free Account: Read “Getting Started” and sign up at: www.ams.usda.gov/services/organic-certification/training. For questions about the Learning Center, contact USDA-NOP@apvit.com.
New courses and course descriptions recently announced as available in the learning center include:
NOP-100: Organic Fraud and the Criminal Mind
Fraud anywhere in the organic system hurts organic farmers. Taught by an expert in food fraud, this course focuses on how the criminal mind works, so you can help deter fraud in the global organic supply chain. This course:
• Shares insights into the criminal mind.
• Describes the product fraud concept and the role of vulnerability assessments.
• Breaks down the factors that can indicate fraud vulnerability.
• Identifies opportunities for organic fraud and explains how to focus on these opportunities during the organic certification process.
NOP-080: Traceability Techniques
Traceability audits provide a window into the procedures of an operation and identify procedural weaknesses that may impact organic integrity. These audits are complex processes that require special technical and interpersonal skills from an inspector. This course:
• Reviews the purpose of traceability techniques within the organic control system.
• Teaches certifiers, inspectors, and reviewers traceability auditing techniques.
• Explains and demonstrates two types of audits: a trace-back audit and a mass balance audit.
We encourage all clients to take courses related to your organic production.
National List Proposed Rule
On June 8th the AMS published a proposed rule amending the National List of Allowed and Prohibited substances as recommended by the National Organic Standards Board. The proposed rule would add:
• Oxalic acid dihydrate to §205.603(b) “as topical treatment, external parasiticide or local anesthetic as applicable” with the annotation “For use as a pesticide solely for apiculture.”
• Pullulan at §205.605(a) for use only in tablets and capsules for dietary supplements labeled “made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)).”
• Collagen gel casings at §205.606
Comments were accepted until August 7th, and will be considered in preparation for publication of a final rule. MOSA comments on the rule were generally supportive of the addition of pullulan, focused on the manufacturing process of collagen gel casings, and offered the opinion that apiculture standards would be great to have as we consider adding materials like oxalic acid for apiculture.
As a reminder, as rules become final, the National List is updated online in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. MOSA notifies you of these updates through email and newsletter notifications. You can request a new National List booklet from MOSA at any time.