National Organic Standards Updates

By Adam Calder

For the first time since the 1990’s, the United States Department of Agriculture updated the rules for the National Organic Program (NOP) that regulates the integrity of organic industries. The updates close loopholes that previously existed in the NOP, and seek to maintain and improve the faith of the farmers, distributors, processors and consumers of food that is certified organic.

The global supply chain for organic food is vast and complex, and this complexity in part has driven the need for these rule updates. Because of this complexity, direct oversight and enforcement of NOP standards by USDA officials throughout the entire supply chain is virtually impossible. In just one basic example used in the rules update report, organic feed corn, there are twelve steps in the supply chain. Under the old rules, those steps allowed the introduction of uncertified elements in the form of trucks, grain elevators, commodity traders, storage facilities, commodities brokers, rail barges, river barges, food processors and distributors.

These new amendments seek to mitigate instances of organic fraud with the following changes:

  • A reduction in the kinds of entities (brokers, traders, importers) that can operate uncertified and without any oversight from the USDA.
  • The use of NOP import certificates will become mandatory for all organic products coming into the United States.
  • Increased authority of the NOP’s overseers to act against a certifying agent or office.
  • Nonretail containers used for shipping and storing organic products must be labeled with organic identity, and this information must match audit trail documentation. Such information will aid in the reduction of traceability and mishandled products.
  • Certifying agents will make unannounced inspections at a minimum of 5% of the businesses they certify, and issue standardized organic certificates.
  • Simplified process for organic operators to submit changes to their systems that reduces the paperwork burden for organic operators and certifying agencies.
  • Further defined conditions for evaluating equivalency of foreign government organic systems with those of the NOP’s, to ensure organic products produced in other countries are compliant with standards in the United States.
  • Clarification of the calculation method used to determine the percentage of organic ingredients in products with multiple ingredients.

This is just a summary of the most important changes in the report. The document is quite lengthy at eighty pages, and there are many pages that go over specific definitions such as the difference between a handler and a processor. Many of the changes are of a similar specific and technical nature, and none of them address one of the most controversial topics in the organic industry right now: allowing organic certification of soil-less (hydroponic, aeroponic) farm systems. Some say it should be allowed, other say it should not. It remains to be seen if the requirements for this type of organic farming will change, and Wheatsfield will keep you posted if they do.