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How the New Organic Enforcement Rule Impacts Your Business

Organic grocery

In March 2024, the Strengthening Organic Enforcement Final Rule went into effect, increasing oversight and enforcement of the creation and sales of organic agriculture.

During the recent SFA Regulatory Update webinar, “Increased Organic Enforcement and Your Supply Chain,” Jeni Lamb Rogers, associate general counsel at Branded, discussed how the rule affects specialty businesses with an organic product, and those who incorporate organic ingredients into their processes.

“We’re here to talk about a really important rule change within the USDA organic system that impacts anyone that sells organic foods, or anyone that is thinking about adding organic foods as part of their core business function,” said Rogers.

Quick Bites

Organic fraud necessitated USDA action: Two cases that made national headlines in 2021 and 2022 exposed systematic issues that eroded consumer confidence in certified organic products.

Organic certification has become more stringent: Some modifications include requiring more supply chain stakeholders to maintain an organic certification and increasing the requirements for importers and exporters of organic products.

Noncompliance can be devastating: It may result in organic certification being suspended or revoked; the USDA may issue a Cease and Desist; civil and criminal penalties could total $21,689 per violation and imprisonment for up to five years; and a business can be opened up to contract and consumer fraud litigation.

Organic Education Across the Supply Chain

“Organic products are a more sustainable way of producing an agricultural product without the use of soil amendments, without the use of pesticides, without genetically modified ingredients,” said Rogers. “But it’s very difficult when you have a finished organic grain and finished [non-organic] grain to actually detect the difference between those products.”

The updated Strengthening Organic Enforcement final rule addresses this issue by requiring more education and documentation to ensure the organic status of a product is maintained across the supply chain.

In the video below, Rogers outlines all the ways the new ruling addresses fraud.

The organic designation now requires more stakeholders to learn about proper organic product handling and to prepare documents and processes including an organic systems handling plan and fraud prevention plan. Additionally organic food “handlers” must undergo an annual inspection by an accredited third-party certifying agent and must maintain their organic certification, rather than earn it once, Rogers explained.

The fraud prevention plan has five key components:

• The appointment of an organic fraud prevention team.

• The mapping of the supply chain for all organic ingredients and the identification of critical control points.

• The completion of a vulnerability assessment.

• Training necessary stakeholders and the creation of reporting requirements.

• Monitoring the effectiveness of the plan.

Some notable exceptions to the handler designation include retailers that do not process agriculture products, and operators that receive, store, and prepare products that are in sealed, tamper-evident containers, said Rogers. Therefore, these stakeholders do not require special organic education and documentation.

To learn more about how the new organic certification ruling affects your specialty food business, watch the webinar on demand in the SFA Learning Center. SFA has also begun offering microlearning tools to accompany online education sessions. The highlights from this webinar can be found here.