The Department of Agriculture (USDA) updated its regulations on organic food labels, as part of an effort to close loopholes and increase confidence in the agency’s organic seal.
“This update to the USDA organic regulations strengthens oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products.” the agency said in a statement on Thursday.
The USDA shared that the new rules, which will be “biggest update to organic regulations” since 1990, hopes to provide, “a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to reinforce the trust of consumers, farmers, and those transitioning to organic production.”
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Previously, the USDA had a strict definition of “certified organic,” allowing the label to be used only for products that meet certain standards for soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.
The new rules will tighten the certification requirements along the organic food supply chain, require certificates for imported goods and beef up inspection protocols.
Under the new requirements, non-retail containers will be required to sport organic labeling to “reduce the mishandling of organic products” and “support traceability.”
“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt said.
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The Organic Trade Association praised the new rules, saying the policy “will have significant and far-reaching impacts on the organic sector and will do much to deter and detect organic fraud and protect organic integrity throughout the supply chain.”
In a Federal Register notice, the USDA sited examples of organic food fraud in recent months.
This week, two Minnesota farmers were charged for allegedly planning to sell more than $46 million worth of chemically treated crops as organic between 2014 and 2021.
In another case prosecuted in Iowa in 2019, the defendant sold some $142 million in non-organic grain over seven years, claiming inaccurately the grain was organically grown in Nebraska and Missouri. Four individuals were sentenced to prison in the case.
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“This rule includes more robust traceability and verification practices that would have helped identify and stop this type of fraud earlier, preventing further sale of the fraudulent products and reducing the impact of the fraud,” the USDA said in the notice.