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Organic Oversight & Enforcement

Fraud cannot be tolerated in organic, inside or outside of the United States. Anytime there is fraud anywhere in the organic system, it takes value out of the organic chain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), certifiers, inspectors and organic businesses all have a shared role in protecting the integrity of the seal. 

The USDA National Organic Program published the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule to support the continued growth of the organic market and improve oversight at critical links in the supply chain. The proposed rule will close gaps in the current regulations to build consistent certification practices to deter and detect organic fraud, improve transparency and traceability of organic products throughout the supply chain, and protect organic integrity. USDA is accepting comments on the proposed rule until October 5.  

UPDATE: Comments on the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule were due October 5. We have prepared and submitted our final comments to the Federal Register.



The Organic Trade Association prepared a 10-page summary of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule for our members. We have also prepared a Member Comment Toolkit and a Summary of our Positions on each of the major topics. 

OTA Summary of SOE Proposed Rule

Organic Trade Association statement on USDA’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule

The Organic Trade Association welcomes USDA’s efforts to boost the integrity of the global organic market through its Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Proposed Rule, soon to be published in the Federal Register. The SOE Proposed Rule is the largest single piece of rulemaking since the implementation of the National Organic Program (NOP) regulations. It will fundamentally transform the oversight and enforcement of organic production worldwide.

The Organic Trade Association, on behalf of its members, has been in the driver’s seat with Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill debate leading up to this historic rulemaking. Several proposed requirements are the outcome of the Organic Trade Association’s priorities and successful legislative work in the 2018 Farm Bill, such as closing the loophole on uncertified handlers by requiring certification and mandating electronic certificates for all imports. In addition to its advocacy for the Farm Bill provisions, in November 2018, the Organic Trade Association submitted comments to the USDA on our top priorities for boosting the integrity of the global organic market, identifying 15 areas where improvements are needed to strengthen the global organic control system.

The Organic Trade Association supports strong public and private sector measures to protect against fraud, deepen transparency across the organic supply chain and ensure consumer confidence in the Organic seal. Alongside updates to the regulation, the trade association has recently launched a member-driven, industry-wide Fraud Prevention Solutions Program that organic businesses can enroll in to deter and eliminate organic fraud. 

In an otherwise comprehensive rule that seeks to boost consumer confidence and support continued growth of the $55 billion organic sector, the intent of USDA’s consideration of user fees and the proposed amendment to revise accreditation fees is unclear and inadequately explained. The Organic Trade Association looks forward to engaging further with the department for a clearer understanding.

Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule Side-by-Side Comparison (current regulation to proposed rule) Fact Sheet: Safeguarding Organic Supply Chains

More on Rulemaking on Strengthening Organic Enforcement

The USDA National Organic Program is planning to publish a major proposed rule on Strengthening Organic Enforcement in early 2020 (draft rule linked above). The proposed rule is expected to be largest single piece of rulemaking since the implementation of NOP regulations and will that will fundamentally transform the regulations in regard to oversight and enforcement.

This rule incorporates 2018 Farm Bill provisions to protect organic integrity, deter fraud, and bolster trust in the USDA organic label. It will do this by strengthening organic control systems, improving import oversight, and solidifying specific sections of the USDA organic regulations.

More specifically, the proposed rule is expected to:

  • Minimize exemptions for organic handlers from organic certification
  • Require use of electronic import certificates
  • Enhance accreditation and certification oversight in the following areas:
  1. Robust inspections: unannounced inspections, inspector training, trace-back and mass balance audits, and grower groups
  2. Confirming organic status: nonretail labeling, standardized organic certificates, data reporting, certifier information sharing
  3. Overseeing certifiers: 90-day notification for new offices, equivalency reviews, adverse action process

Join OTA’s Enforcement Rulemaking Task Force     

Pre-Rulemaking Comments

In November 2018, the Organic Trade Association submitted comments to the USDA on our top priorities for boosting the integrity of the global organic market. The Organic Trade Association comments identified 15 areas where improvements are needed to increase the integrity of the global organic control system. Read the full OTA comments here.

The comments were filed in response to an interactive webinar hosted by NOP to inform the public of the organic integrity topic areas that will be addressed and to give organic stakeholders an early engagement opportunity to help inform the proposed rule.

Private Sector Solutions

Organic stakeholders are attacking fraud from many angles. The Organic Trade Association’s Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions Program launched in 2019 is quickly gaining participation among OTA members. Read more about the program here.

NOP Enforcement Actions in Black Sea Region

On May 9, 2019, NOP suspended accreditation of Control Union Certification’s satellite office in Turkey. The almost 200 operations that were certified by this office had to either surrender their organic certification or apply to a new certifier within 60 days to retain their USDA organic certification. NOP sent a notice to all USDA- accredited certification agencies providing an alert about organic certification activities in the Black Sea region, along with new additional reporting requirements for certifiers. The notice also include a new directive to certification staff and inspectors listing mandatory compliance verification points for grain and oilseed producers in the Black Sea region, as well as any affiliated grain and oilseed handlers.

These enforcement actions are a result of strengthening ongoing enforcement initiatives by NOP and certifiers. With increased unannounced inspections and residue testing, 180 operations (60 percent of the certified population) in the Black Sea region have lost their organic certification. In collaboration with the Office of Inspector General, NOP is continued to conduct risk-based oversight of organic supply chains through five key initiatives: 1) Farm-level yield analysis, 2) Supply chain research, 3) Ship-specific surveillance, 4) Country-commodity studies, and 5) Fumigation investigations. Some of these activities have been ongoing since 2016 and are continuing to support robust oversight and enforcement of organic certification systems. Read more about NOP enforcement activities here.


Gwendolyn Wyard
Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs
(503) 798-3294