The National Organic Program opens up economic opportunities and new markets for American farmers. However, millions of dollars of non-organic products have been intentionally mislabeled and sold as organic. That destroys consumer confidence in the certified organic program and undercuts those farmers who adhere to the law. The USDA has a proposed rule that would deter and detect organic fraud. The Organic Trade Association has pushed for strengthening organic protections since the 2018 Farm Bill was first written.
Gwendolyn Wyard is the Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs with the Organic Trade Association. She says the proposed rule covers as many as 12 different aspects of the organic industry.
“First thing that it does is it mandates that more players involved in the sale of organic foods, like brokers and traders, obtain certification. So, we’re making sure that we close any weaknesses or gaps in the supply chain right now if you aren’t taking physical possession or financial possession of products, that means you’re brokering, and those entities typically haven’t needed to get certified. What we’ve found through the history of fraud and where the fraudsters are getting in, it’s wherever you have that weakness or broken link there in the supply chain.”
USDA says with the new rule in place, roughly 2,000 operations will need to get certified under the program, with up to 1,000 of those operations in the U.S. The new rule will also make it easier to trace and track imported foods by requiring electronic import certificates.
“Organic products coming into the United States must have an import certificate that comes along with it, and the data has to be uploaded into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial System, but essentially, it’s traceability. And with that traceability, there’s going to be a requirement for supply chain audit, mass balances all the way through, so it’s very much focused on complete transparency and traceability all the way through.”
Another part of the rule will mandate the reporting of organic acres, something OTA has also been pushing for. She calls this a complete overhaul to the regulations that will strengthen the oversight and enforcement of rules governing organic production worldwide. It’s vital to a growing organic industry that USDA get this right.
“It is really focused on closing gaps in the organic supply chain and strengthening the organic regulations in order to prevent fraud. And it’s critical that we do this, and we do it right because shoppers need to know that the organic standards are strong. Anytime there is fraud, it takes the value out of the organic chain. It hurts organic farmers wherever they farm. We are a label, we are a field that entirely relies on trust, consumer trust.”
Organic sales have grown from $1 billion up to $55 billion since 1990. The public comment period on the proposed rule recently closed and the USDA has a lot of comments to go through.
“They will take that feedback and they will make adjustments to the proposed rule based on that feedback, and then they’ll turn around and come out with a final rule. Once the final rule comes out, what they’re proposing is a one-year implementation period. So, it would give everybody a year to come into compliance with the final rule from the date that it’s published.”
Wyard says the best-case scenario would be to see the new rule published in the spring of 2021.