USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is working to amend U.S. organic regulations, noting an increased need to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products.
AMS posted a 60-day comment period on proposed changes that ended on Oct. 5, and 1,511 comments came in during that time.
Among the topics discussed in the comments were:
- Applicability of the regulations and exemptions from organic certification;
- Import certificates;
- Record keeping and product traceability;
- Certifying agent personnel qualifications and training;
- Standardized certificates of organic operation;
- Unannounced on-site inspections of certified operations; and
- Calculating the organic content of multi-ingredient products.
“Organic products are no longer relegated to obscure shelves in a store; they are very much mainstream. Organic fruits and vegetable, as well as other organic products, are now found in every grocery store,” says Max Teplitski, chief science officer of the Produce Marketing Association (PMA). “In fact, USDA estimates that organic product sales reached $55.1 billion in 2019 in the United States. This is a huge market, with a lot of opportunities to grow … and, unfortunately, with significant temptations for unscrupulous players.”
Compared with conventional production, organic production requires very different inputs, such as organic fertilizers and organic ways to control weeds and pests, meaning that organic production is sometimes more labor-intensive than conventional production. “Even though organic products are widely available now, as consumers, we need to keep in mind these key differences in conventional and organic production practices,” Teplitski says. “It is absolutely critical to maintain the integrity of the USDA Organic Certification. In fact, now is the perfect time to implement measures to strengthen organic enforcement, because clearly there is the need, and now there are tools to do it, and do it well.”
One of the goals of USDA is to rely on more technology, as there’s been an explosion in traceability technologies that will allow the tracing of organic produce from seed to fork, and do it reliably and very inexpensively.
Teplitski notes that PMA and its partners are looking forward to the opportunity to engage with AMS to show their support for the measures that will continue to support consumers trust in the USDA Organic Label and show support for streamlining paperwork requirements for international organics trade, ensuring that the perishable commodities move across borders quickly.
Other players in support of the changes include the United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers, and the final rule writing phase seems to have the support of the broader organic community at large. AMS is proposing that all requirements in this new proposed rule be implemented within 10 months of the effective date of the final rule, one year after the publication of the final rule.