SOE Update: Non-Processing Handler Fact Sheet
BY MOSA Certified Organic | Mar 13, 2023
Non-Processing Handler Fact Sheet
Does your supply chain include handlers that now need to be certified?
Who MUST be certified: (Certification of previously exempt handlers is needed by March 19, 2024)
The new Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule requires that any handling operation that produces or handles organic agricultural products must be certified organic. This means that operations conducting activities described in the definition of handle must be certified organic and must follow all applicable portions of the OFPA and the USDA organic regulations. In general, handle means to “sell, process, or package” organic agricultural products. MOSA’s new streamlined process for non-processing handlers will facilitate certification of previously exempt handlers.
National Organic Standards Definitions:
Handling operation. Any operation that handles agricultural products, except final retailers of agricultural products that do not process agricultural products.
Handler. Any person that handles agricultural products, except final retailers of agricultural products that do not process agricultural products.
Handle. To sell, process, or package agricultural products, including but not limited to trading, facilitating sale or trade on behalf of a seller or oneself, importing to the United States, exporting for sale in the United States, combining, aggregating, culling, conditioning, treating, packing, containerizing, repackaging, labeling, storing, receiving, or loading.
The definition of handle includes the term processing, defined in §205.2. Operations that process organic agricultural products must be certified. The definition further explains what to “sell” and “package” mean by including additional examples of handling activities. The examples represent typical supply chain activities that have the potential to affect organic integrity. Operations that conduct these activities must be certified (unless exempt per §205.101). The definition of handle is not an exhaustive list of activities that must be certified. There may be activities not listed that are similar to the listed activities and require certification. The absence of a specific term in the definition of handle does not mean the activity is not handling or that an operation conducting this activity does not need certification.
Activities where there is physical contact with organic products include, but are not limited to:
Labeling, including private labeling
Operations that often conduct these activities may include:
Bulk grain handlers
Warehouses that cull, label, or repackage
Central bakeries or kitchens that serve grocery chains
Ports of entry
Activities where there may not be physical contact with organic products include, but are not limited to:
Facilitating sale or trade on behalf of a seller or oneself
Importing to the United States
Exporting from a foreign country for sale in the United States
Operations that often conduct these activities may include:
Contract Handlers are sometimes used to provide services to certified operations. Any contractor performing handling activities, such as those described above, on behalf of an operation must be certified or, if exempt, described in the OSP of a certified operation and an Exempt Handler form submitted.
It is common for some operations to handle both organic and nonorganic agricultural products (i.e., a split operation). For a split operation, only the portion(s) of the operation that produces or handles organic agricultural products must be certified. For example, a grocery store chain's retail locations may be exempt under § 205.101(b) or (c), but importing and some distribution activities would likely need to be certified.
Who does NOT need to be certified:
Limited exemptions for operations that handle organic agricultural products are described in §205.101(a)-(h). These exemptions include:
Operations with less than $5000 gross income. §205.101(a)
Retail establishments that do not process and sell directly to the consumer or that only process at the point of final sale to the consumer. §205.101(b) and (c)
Operations that only handle products with less than 70% organic ingredients, or that only identify organic ingredients on the information panel. §205.101(d)
Operations that only handle products that are in enclosed, sealed, tamper-evident packaging or containers prior to being received, and they remain in the same packages throughout handling. §205.101(e) and (f)
Customs brokers that only conduct customs business and do not handle. §205.101(g)
Operations that only arrange for the shipping, storing, transport, or movement of organic products and do not handle organic products. §205.101(h)
While these operations are not required to be certified, certification is often a better choice. Operations that are exempt in §205.101(a) and (c-f) must keep required records to verify the organic integrity of the supply chain.
Transporters: All transport operations conducting any activities other than the movement of product on a transportation vehicle or moving products between transportation vehicles (transloading) must be certified organic. Handling activities which are adjacent to transport require certification unless they are covered by exemptions §205.101(e) or (f) for packaged products. Examples include:
In addition, loading or unloading of unpackaged products into or from a storage facility is not a form of transportation and must be certified. Operations that store bulk products or products not packaged in sealed, tamper-evident packaging must be certified.
What should operations expect: Next steps
Create a MOSA account on the MyMOSA website and complete MOSA’s new Non-Processing Handler Organic System Plan. All certified organic operations must follow the portions of the USDA organic regulations that apply to activities they conduct and some portions will not apply to every operation. The scope of a handling operation's certification only covers the activities it conducts. For example, the OSP of a certified broker will describe the operation's system to maintain transaction records and audit trails, verify suppliers and NOP Import Certificates, and verify traceability. On-site inspection will focus on a records review and evaluation, rather than evaluation of physical facilities. Organic certification for new operations must be in place by March 19, 2024.