Stop Organic Fraud

A new proposed rule will strengthen organic enforcement—it needs our support. Action Alert! The rule, put together by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is urgently needed given widespread fraud that has been reported in the organics industry. The level of deception has reached epidemic proportions: a USDA study found that 40% of all organic food sold in

A new proposed rule will strengthen organic enforcement—it needs our support. Action Alert!

The rule, put together by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is urgently needed given widespread fraud that has been reported in the organics industry. The level of deception has reached epidemic proportions: a USDA study found that 40% of all organic food sold in the US tested positive for prohibited pesticides. The rule takes a number of positive steps that, if implemented, will help restore some consumer confidence in the organics industry. The USDA must not delay in enacting these measures.

The rule includes many changes to how the organic supply chain operates. One of the key provisions is reducing the entities that operate in the organic supply chain without organic certification. Currently, there are many middlemen—brokers, handlers, etc.—that do not need to be certified, which has led to several instances of fraud totaling millions of dollars.

For example, organic grains are often stored in grain elevators, which do not need to be certified organic. Because grain elevators don’t need to be certified, the National Organic Program (NOP) cannot require organic certifiers to investigate onsite activities of these elevators. Investigations have found criminals using loopholes to funnel nonorganic feedstuffs through uncertified grain elevators.

According to the proposed rule, “Organic certification would subject [grain elevators] to regular, systematic oversight from accredited certifying agents and allow the NOP to monitor these entities’ activities through on-site investigations, ensuring faster detection and prevention of millions of dollars in organic fraud.”

The proposed rule also requires organic import certificates from all countries. Incredibly, current regulations only require organic import certificates from the European Union, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea—countries the NOP has determined use an equivalent system of organic certification. This proposed rule would require that any organic agricultural product imported to the United States be associated with a valid NOP Import Certificate or equivalent data source. This will provide trackable and auditable verification that a specific shipment complies with USDA organic regulations.

The rule clarifies the NOP’s authority to oversee certification activities, including the authority to act against an agent or office of a certifying agent.

The above changes were mandated by the 2018 Farm Bill, but the USDA outlines a host of additional discretionary actions that are being proposed, such as:

  • Specifying the minimum number of unannounced inspections of certified operations that must be conducted annually by accredited certifying agents and requiring that supply chain audits be completed during on-site inspections.
  • Requiring certifying agents to issue standardized certificates of organic operation. Standardization will simplify the verification of valid organic certificates and import certificates.
  • Clarifying that certified operations only need to submit changes to their organic system plan during annual updates, and clarifying that certifying agents must conduct annual inspections of certified operations. This will reduce the paperwork burden for organic operations and ensure that all organic operations are inspected at least once a year.
  • Establishing specific qualification and training requirements for certifying agent personnel, including inspectors and certification reviewers.
  • Clarifying conditions for establishing, evaluating, and terminating equivalence determinations with foreign government organic programs, based on an evaluation of their organic foreign conformity systems. This will ensure the compliance of organic products imported from countries that have organic equivalence determinations with the United States.

A full summary of all the proposed changes in the rule can be found here.

As mentioned above, changes to USDA’s approach to ensuring the integrity of the organic seal are desperately needed. The level of fraud that goes on is an outrage, and for a long time the USDA showed no signs of deviating from business as usual. It took action from industry stakeholders and angry consumers to spur the agency to action.

We need to support this rule to reduce organic fraud to protect organic farmers trying to do the right thing as well as consumers who pay a premium to buy what they believe to be clean food.

Action Alert! Write to the USDA and tell them to move quickly to address organic fraud by implementing the proposed rule. Please send your message immediately.