USDA to propose 'game-changing' organic rule soon

Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, speaks Jan. 10 at The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Expo. ( Tom Karst )

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Significant new enforcement regulations are coming soon for the National Organic Program.

That was the message from Jennifer Tucker, deputy administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NOP, who spoke Jan. 10 at The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Expo.

“The rule will be a game-changer,” Tucker said. 

The “Strengthening Enforcement Rule,” now being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, particularly applies to uncertified handlers and to importers, Tucker said. The rule is expected to be published soon, Tucker said, and will have a 60-day comment period.

Tucker said the proposed rule will create:

  • Increased accountability and visibility;
  • Fewer exemptions with increased handler certifications;
  • A requirement for all imports to have certificates; and 
  • Enhanced oversight of accreditation and certification.

“The goal is to transform the organic regulations to meet marketing needs,” Tucker said. “We want to do very targeted actions that impact high-risk areas to increase accountability and visibility.”

A big part of the rule, she said, will be to allow fewer exemptions, which will increase the number of handler certifications.

Currently, handlers who deal with packaged organic products, or are brokers, don’t need to be certified. Tucker said that is going to change.

Congress has asked the USDA to close the loophole of uncertified handlers and mandate electronic certificates for all imports, she said.

“Customs and Border Protection is at this very moment programming the organic import certificate into their automated commercial environment,” Tucker said. “There will now be a mechanism (on the Automated Export System) to identify your products as organic and they will have to be accompanied by an import certificate once the rule is final.”

Tucker said the technology is being developed by Customs and Border Protection to produce import certificates in a way that won’t delay trade.

“We care about shipments moving across the border and we will not slow down that process,” she said.

While CBP will own the automated system that produces the certificates, Tucker said USDA will have access to the import certificate data for decisions and actions on investigations and risk-based surveillance.

“We are going to be doing pilot testing this year when CBP finishes building the import certificate (software),” she said.

The proposed regulation also will address unannounced inspections and inspector training and tighten the rule on non-retail labeling. The rule also seeks to standardize organic certificates and modify requirements for information sharing by certifiers, Tucker said.

The Packer’s Global Organic Produce Exposition & Conference (GOPEX) provides a forum to meet the rapidly changing needs of professionals who grow, distribute, pack and market organic produce. This international trade show and conference provides the ideal opportunity for organic produce professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas, source new products and services, and do business with the industry's leading growers, distributors, packers, marketers and retailers. 

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