Certification Policy Update - Strengthening Organic Enforcement
Certification Policy Update
By Jackie DeMinter, Certification Policy Manager
National Organic Program
Strengthening Organic Enforcement
On January 19, 2023 the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) published the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule. The rule is effective March 20, 2023 and all operations must be in compliance by March 19, 2024. This update to the USDA organic regulations strengthens oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products. 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 is another demonstration that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand.”
National Organic Program information about the rule can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/strengthening-organic-enforcement
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, traders, importers and exporters, at critical links in organic supply chains. Operations new to certification will need to submit an Organic System Plan and be inspected and certified by March 19, 2024. See the article “SOE & Non-Processing Handlers” in this issue for more details.
Requiring NOP Import Certificates for all organic imports.. This system in the Organic Integrity Database is being developed and by the time the rule is fully implemented, certifiers will have the ability to generate import certificates.
Requiring organic identification on nonretail containers. Updates will be needed on most nonretail labels currently in use. Operations will need to begin using new labels by March 19, 2024.
Increasing authority for more rigorous on-site inspections of certified operations. On-site inspections conducted annually will continue to include mass-balancing and traceback audits that thoroughly verify the organic supply chain. MOSA will also begin conducting full supply chain audits for high-risk products across certifiers and certified entities to verify organic integrity.
Requiring uniform qualification and training standards for organic inspectors and certifying agent personnel. We are confident our staff and inspectors meet all requirements.
Requires standardized certificates of organic operation. Certificates will be printed from the Organic Integrity Database (OID) found here: https://organic.ams.usda.gov/integrity/ and will look a bit different but still contain the same information as current certificates.
Requires additional and more frequent reporting of data on certified operations. MOSA will maintain and update the OID for your operation, Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Client Summary, as well as provide more information about your operation on a regular basis.
Creates authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices, and fraud prevention procedures. New Organic System Plan information will be needed this year.
Specifies certification requirements for producer groups.
SOE complements and supports the many actions that USDA takes to protect the organic label, including the registration of the USDA organic seal trademark. 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. See more about the new seal below.
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. To see if you are affected by SOE, please read the full rule available at: www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2023-00702/national-organic-program-strengthening-organic-enforcement
Additional resources are available on the MOSA website here: https://mosaorganic.org/news-commentary/strengthening-organic-enforcement-soe-client-summary
When must organic operations comply with the rule?
Organic operations, certifying agents, and other organic stakeholders affected by the rule must be in compliance by March 19, 2024. This means that operations new to organic certification must be certified by this date. Currently certified operations requiring updates must have all updates in place and MOSA must also verify compliance by March 19th, 2024. Operations that are unable to meet this compliance date will be in noncompliance with the new regulations.
MOSA is actively working to update our systems, processes and procedures and will be communicating directly to certified operations. MOSA certified operations should review the new regulations to evaluate if your operation is directly affected or if operations you work with are affected. We are poised to offer a streamlined certification process to non-processing handlers. This includes all handlers conducting any handling activity but not processing organic product. Contact us with any questions about your operation or operations you work with throughout the organic supply chain.
Trademark Registration of the USDA Organic Seal
On December 20, 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that it has registered the USDA organic seal trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Registration of the organic seal grants additional intellectual property rights to further restrict the use of the trademark or a confusingly similar one, by uncertified farms and businesses.
As the trademark owner, USDA can seek additional civil remedies such as injunctive relief and monetary damages under the Lanham Act. Operations trafficking in counterfeit organic goods or otherwise willfully misusing the USDA organic seal may be subject to fines and imprisonment under the Trademark Counterfeiting Act. This also means the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can now detain, reject, or re-export imported products confirmed to be fraudulently using the USDA organic seal. Trademark authority and penalties for misusing the seal are in effect regardless of whether the ® is included.
Though the use of the new seal is encouraged, certified organic operations are not required to change their labels to include the registration mark ® of the seal, and certified organic products currently in the marketplace still meet the requirements of certification. Operations may choose either version of the seal and existing labels do not need to be revised or discarded. New versions of the seal can be found in multiple file formats can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/organic-seal. New labels using the registered trademark seal must be approved by MOSA prior to use.
One last reminder on the Origin of Livestock Final Rule
The Origin of Livestock (OOL) final rule for organic dairy was effective June 6th, 2022 and all operations must be in full compliance by April 5th, 2023. MOSA has updated our internal policies, systems and organic plan paperwork to fully align with the new rule, which:
Allows a dairy livestock operation transitioning to organic, or starting a new organic farm, to transition nonorganic animals one time.
Prohibits organic dairies from sourcing any transitioned animals. Once a dairy is certified organic, new animals must be managed as organic from the last third of gestation. Variances may be requested by small businesses for specific scenarios.
More detailed information about the Origin of Livestock rule is available at: www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/national-organic-program-origin-livestock