The Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service has issued a final rule amending its regulations to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products. Compliance with this rule, which AMS chief Jenny Lester Moffitt called “the biggest update to the organic regulations since the original act in 1990,” will be required beginning March 19, 2024.

An AMS press release states that this rule “protects organic integrity and bolsters farmer and consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal by supporting strong organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, increasing import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations.” Key updates include the following.

- expanding the requirement for National Organic Program import certificates to all organic products imported into the U.S.

- requiring certification of more of the businesses at critical links in organic supply chains (though customs brokers and logistics brokers will be exempt unless they sell, import, or trade organic products)

- clarifying conditions for establishing, evaluating, and terminating equivalence determinations with foreign government organic programs to ensure the compliance of organic products imported from countries that have organic trade arrangements or agreements with the U.S.

- clarifying that the NOP may initiate enforcement action against any violator, including uncertified operations and responsibly connected parties

- clarifying the method of calculating the percentage of organic ingredients in a multi-ingredient product

- requiring certified operations to develop and implement improved recordkeeping and organic fraud prevention processes and procedures and requiring certifying agents to conduct supply chain traceability audits

- requiring non-retail containers used to ship or store organic products to be labeled with organic identity and be traceable to audit trail documentation

- specifying that each year certifying agents must conduct unannounced inspections of at least five percent of the operations they certify and verify traceability back to the previous certified operation in the supply chain

- requiring certifying agents to issue standardized certificates of organic operation generated from the USDA’s organic integrity database to 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 that certifying agents must conduct annual inspections of certified operations

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