USDA’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule aims to stamp out fraud


The Agriculture Department announced new guidelines for products labeled “organic,” a term that has become increasingly misused as shoppers demand healthier, eco-friendly food.

The USDA has a strict definition of “certified organic,” allowing the label to be used only for products that meet certain standards for soil quality, animal-rearing practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. Let’s fulfill The update issued by the agency on Thursday aims to close a loophole that allows materials that do not meet criteria to infiltrate the supply chain.

Tom Chapman, chief executive of the Organic Trade Association, said the updates represent “the largest revision to the organic standards since they were published in 1990”. should go a long way towards promoting them Trust in the “organic” label, Chapman said, noting that the move “raises the bar to prevent bad actors at any point in the supply chain.”

Millions of pounds apparently fake ‘organic’ cereals convince food industry there could be a problem

Chapman’s trade union, which represents about 10,000 growers in the United States, has been pushing for stricter guidelines for years, partly motivated by A series of stories in the Washington Post in 2017 revealed that fraudulent “organic” foods were a widespread problem in the food industry.

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Yet the problems of organic fraud remain. This month, the Justice Department announced indictments of individuals who masterminded a multimillion-dollar scheme to export non-organic soybeans from Eastern Europe to sell in the United States as certified organic. The department stated that they were able to charge 50 percent more for “organic” cereals than conventional ones.

And this week, two Minnesota farmers were indicted in connection with an alleged scheme to sell chemically treated crops organically for more than $46 million between 2014 and 2021.

USDA officials said they were guarding against organic food fraud. Congress decided they needed help.

“When rule breakers cheat the system, it sows the seeds of doubt about the integrity of organic labels and puts the future of the entire industry at risk,” Rep. Chelly Pingree (D-Maine) said in a statement. “As a longtime organic farmer, I know how costly and time-consuming it is to adhere to the standards required to earn the USDA Certified Organic label.”

Government standards require that products labeled organic be produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other outlawed practices, sewage sludge or radiation. That’s a high bar that even many farms that use more natural practices don’t meet.

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According to the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic foods in the United States have more than doubled over the past 10 years, rising a record 12.4 percent to $61.9 billion in 2020, as consumers are more concerned about eating healthier foods. Got worried. Experts predict that the category will continue to grow. Although some consumers view “organic” as synonymous with “healthy,” the science on whether organic food is healthier is mixed, with many studies showing only small increases in certain nutrients.

Supply chains have long plagued organic food producers, particularly as the industry has grown and large manufacturers source their ingredients from overseas, where it is harder to check whether they are meeting standards. American organic farmers complain that allowing companies to market these products as “organic” creates an uneven playing field and undermines trust in the label.

Major updates to the rules include requiring certification of more businesses, such as brokers and traders, at critical links in organic supply chains. It also requires organic certifications for all organic imports and increases inspection and reporting requirements. Certified Operations.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is an important part of the USDA food system transformation initiative,” Jenny Lester Moffitt, under secretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a statement. He added that “this success is another demonstration that the USDA stands behind a completely organic brand.”

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The Organic Food Industry Is Booming, And It Could Be Bad For Consumers

Some food industry organizations say they are not yet sure how tough the new rule will be for members. Others already say the new rule isn’t doing enough to root out cheating.

“I’m quite concerned that everyone is going to declare victory and go home,” said Mark Kastel, founder of OrganicEye, an advocacy group.

Kastel said the agency “draged its feet” on organics, taking 12 years to move forward. regulations after Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990. And he points to a long-standing debate about whether large-scale dairies in the West adequately adhere to standards for how organically raised animals should be treated. These dairies now produce most of the milk labeled as organic.

Violating the standards, which includes giving cows time to graze outside, Kastel said, “is a betrayal of the values ​​that justify consumers paying a premium price for organic dairy products.”

The new rules will take effect in March and affected companies will have one year to comply with the changes.


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