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August 2020 News & Policy Updates for the Organic Industry

“I think the foundation of everything in my life is wonder.” —Alice Walker


Organic Resilience 2020

Change is the absolute constant in nature, and in life, and it’s especially the new normal for 2020. We now have about 50 days to participate in the largest changes to the organic regulations in twenty years. The proposed Strengthening Organic Enforcement regulatory update to the USDA National Organic Program is intended to catch us up to two decades of changes and growth in our industry.

And it’s quite a document, taking up 57 pages in the August 5, 2020 Federal Register. Most of the changes are good, but this update will affect everyone, and still needs quite a bit of fine-tuning and clarification.

I strongly recommend that you find out how this will affect your business and participate in strengthening the final rules by commenting by the October 5, 2020 deadline. Let’s make organic even more resilient and useful for fostering beneficial changes for our health and our planet.  If we can help, please get in touch.

Bill Wolf

We deliver the strategic expertise to help organic, socially- and environmentally-responsible products and projects reach their full potential — and flourish.



Comment by October 5 on proposed rule that significantly changes to organic regulation enforcement

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Proposed Rule is now posted for public comment. The most extensive update to the National Organic Program since the program was implemented, the proposed rule is designed to strengthen oversight and enforcement throughout the organic supply chain by increasing the types of businesses that must be certified if they work with organic products, requiring electronic NOP import certificates for all organic products entering the United States, clarifying record keeping and fraud prevention procedures, and standardizing requirements for on-site inspection of organic operations.

An information page includes links to a comparison to current regulation along a link to a recording of July 8 overview presentation by Deputy Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program Jennifer Tucker and Shannon Nally Yanessa, Assistant Director, USDA National Organic Program – Standards Division.

The proposed rule covers:

  • applicability of the regulations and exemptions from organic certification;
  • import certificates;
  • recordkeeping and product traceability;
  • certifying agent personnel qualifications and training;
  • standardized certificates of organic operation;
  • unannounced on-site inspections of certified operations;
  • oversight of certification activities;
  • foreign conformity assessment systems;
  • certification of grower group operations;
  • labeling of nonretail containers;
  • annual update requirements for certified operations;
  • compliance and appeals processes;
  • and calculating organic content of multi-ingredient products.

In addition, AMS is requesting comments on the following general topics:

  1. The clarity of the proposed requirements. Can certified operations, handlers, and certifying agents readily determine how to comply with the proposed regulations?
  2. The implementation timeframe. AMS is proposing that all requirements in this proposed rule be implemented within ten months of the effective date of the final rule (this is also one year after publication of the final rule).
  3. The accuracy of the estimates in the Regulatory Impact Analysis and Regulatory Flexibility Analysis, which describe the expected costs of this proposed rule on all affected entities and on small businesses, respectively.
  4. Are there alternatives to regulations, or less stringent requirements, that could achieve the same objectives as this proposed rule?
  5. How will certifying agents cover the costs of additional actions required under this rule, such as the required unannounced inspections and the issuing of NOP Import Certificates? Will certifying agents charge fees that are consistent for expanded handlers, brokers, importers and exporters?

Comment on Docket number AMS-NOP-17-0065 by October 5.

FSA cuts organic certification reimbursements

USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced reductions to the organic certification cost share reimbursements mandated in the 2018 Farm Bill. Although the Farm Bill set cost share funds of 75 percent of certification costs up to $750, the FSA will cut the amount to 50 percent of eligible expenses, up to $500. The notice in the August 10 Federal Register said the change is to due to limited funding and will allow more organic farms and handling operations to participate. In past years, funds were available to cover all applications and any unused funds remained available for future needs. The National Organic Coalition and Organic Farmers Association decried the changes, especially during a pandemic when organic farms may be struggling with additional challenges.

Electronic import certificate information now available

The National Organic Program launched a project in April to implement electronic import certificates, and has a new webpage to provide information about the program. Although using the electronic certificates is optional for now, customs brokers who start voluntarily submitting data will help NOP and U.S. Customs and Border Protection ensure the new certificate does not slow trade for valid organic products. Electronic organic import certificates are required by the 2018 Farm Bill and are closely connected with the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule currently underway.

NOP requests NOSB discussion about inspector shortage

In a memo to the National Organic Standards Board, the National Organic program requests a public discussion about short and long term solutions to a shortage of well-qualified organic inspectors and reviewers. Related issues with corresponding questions for discussion include strategic workforce planning, recruiting, developing a talent pipeline, performance management and evaluation, and professional support.

NOP continues organic enforcement

Despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Organic Program and certifiers have continued with enforcement efforts, and NOP has released a report for activity through June 2020. NOP completed 23 accreditation audits of certifiers since March, and so far this fiscal year certifiers have suspended or revoked certification of over 430 operations in violation of the regulations. Meanwhile, in the last 12 months ending July 1, 2020, NOP has closed 329 cases, with over half of those (57 percent) resulting in voluntary compliance, Another 26 percent turned out not to have violated the regulations. Of the cases in 419 progress, over half (56 percent) involve uncertified operations making organic claims.


Japan and US expand organic trade arrangement

Effective July 16, the organic trade arrangement between the United States and Japan now includes livestock products and processed food products containing livestock in the list of goods that may be certified to either country’s organic standards for sale as organic in both markets. Details.

China develops testing requirements for organic products

In draft guidance documents for fruits, vegetable, teas, medicinal plants, dairy products and meat, China’s Certification and Accreditation Administration seeks to standardize organic sampling and testing procedures there. The guidance would also further regulate organic certification and provide direction to certification bodies in testing for contaminants, including  pesticides and drugs prohibited in organic agriculture, based on risk assessment. Testing would be required as part of the certification process. Grapes would face the largest number of mandatory tests—70 in all. Public comment on the drafts closed July 31. More.

Environmental concerns drive farmers in Thailand to use organic methods

A study in the Journal of Agriculture Extension examined the reasons rice farmers in Thailand were willing to switch to organic farming, and found that concerns about the environment topped the list. Farmers most willing to switch were farmers with more years of schooling, of younger age, with smaller pieces of land, and who had more experience in farming rice. Organic agriculture in Thailand is increasing at 16 percent per year, and the government is actively encouraging transition to organic farming. More.


Guidance addresses testing for National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service issued final guidance, effective July 7, for meeting validation requirements of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard. Under that standard, foods that do not contain detectable modified genetic material are not bioengineered foods, and do not require disclosure. The guidance addresses the requirements for validating that a refining process renders modified genetic material undetectable and the standards of performance for detectability tracing. Certification under the National Organic Program is sufficient for making claims about the absence of bioengineering in food.

Comment on GMO corn deregulation

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) seeks public comment on the potential deregulation Pioneer Hi-Bred International DP202216 Maize, a corn variety genetically engineered for resistance to glufosinate-ammonium herbicide. Comments are due August 19 on Docket No. APHIS-2019-0040.


Organic materials review applications increase at OMRI

The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) reports a 22 percent increase in product review applications since the start of 2020, with record numbers of applications in February and March.

If you have a product used in organic agriculture or processing and would like to be reviewed by OMRI, Wolf & Associates can help with the OMRI application process. Call today to discuss your needs.

Beer giant to support sustainability research

Anheuser-Busch Foundation plans to give $530,000 to support model farms at four land grant universities, with a primary focus on enhancing environmental sustainability. Donations include:

  • University of Idaho: $200,000 to research rotations, cover crops and livestock integration at multiple sites including Anheuser-Busch-owned locations.
  • North Dakota State University: $150,000 for projects which focus on the suitability and impact of cover crops following barley in local rotations.
  • Montana State University: $50,000 for additional research on the amount of water and energy saved using Low Energy Spray Application (LESA) pivots on barley while maintaining yield and quality.
  • University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture: $130,000 to establish a Discovery Farm to test irrigation strategies for rice farms and to document continuous improvement towards sustainability, including profitability and methane emission reductions.

Go on a trade mission from your home

The Organic Trade Association is coordinating virtual trade missions in September to help organic exporters in the United States make connections with organic buyers from Asia, Europe and the Gulf Region. Separate trade mission dates are available for organic produce exporters and for exporters of organic processed products. Cost per event: $75 per company. Registration deadline: August 14. Details.