by Tracy Favre, W&A Associate
The new regulations for Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) will require additional efforts from businesses to track their supply chains and help mitigate the potential for fraud. In anticipation of these requirements, the Organic Trade Association established its Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions Program, and names Wolf & Associates as a Trusted Advisor to the program. Our Associate Tracy Favre shared some insight on how companies can get started with what might seem a daunting task.
Why is supply chain traceability so important right now?
Beyond the need to have a fraud prevention program as part of Strengthening Organic Enforcement regulations, supply chain traceability goes hand-in-glove with some of the practices that a diligent professional food company is going to do. The process will look familiar to what companies are doing for food safety efforts and to analyze potential hazards. Having a robust fraud prevention program could also prevent legal issues, recalls or damage to a company’s reputation that fraudulent ingredients might pose.
The truth of the matter is, these people that commit fraud are doing it intentionally. They are dedicated, and they are smart. In some cases they are going through complicated machinations to bring fraudulent material to market, and they do it because they can make a lot of money. Starting your traceability program is like keeping your house secure—you make sure you have good locks, outside lights, no bushes, and whatever else it takes to make it difficult to break in. OTA’s Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions Program is designed to give as secure a supply chain as you can.
What are some of the first steps to addressing fraud prevention through supply chain traceability?
Companies can start at any place in the supply chain with top-level analysis, and work their way through the process to zero in on products and ingredients with higher risk. Those are the priorities. Some assessments might include where an ingredient is coming from, if a lot of third parties are involved, if it is an expensive ingredient or if there is a likelihood of substitution or adulteration. Then, put in place tools in the system to make it more difficult for fraudsters to get through. Keep refining the systems as you work through all the products and ingredients. The idea is to prevent fraud, not chase down fraudsters.
Then, be aware that the process is ongoing. You need to keep scanning the environment for trouble spots. When developing new products or ingredients, evaluating the potential for fraud from the outset would make sense. The process is time-consuming, but the goal is to ultimately do an assessment of every ingredient in every product.
What is the biggest pitfall in starting a supply chain traceability program?
The biggest mistake would be to not do it. You can start small and make reviews more and more robust. Just get started.
Tracy Favre has more than 30 years in natural resource management working as an environmental engineer, then in various positions working in sustainable and organic agriculture. She served as the Global Director for Quality Assurance International (QAI), setting strategic direction for the organization, including international expansion. From 2012 – 2017, Tracy served on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), as one of two Natural Resource/Environmental seats and wrapping up her tenure there as board chair. Tracy has worked as an independent organic inspector, conducting inspections for fruit/vegetable growers, livestock operations, and food and beauty products processing facilities around the country. She is currently serving as the Vice Chair for the board of directors of the Organic Trade Association. Tracy is passionate about the intersection of good, healthy food and sustainable livelihoods.
Organic Regulatory Updates
Map Helps Connect Farmers to Technical Assistance
USDA’s Organic Transition Initiative, designed to provide technical assistance to the next generation of organic farmers via paid mentorships, now offers an interactive map to connect farmers with participating organizations. The initiative provides comprehensive support for farmers transitioning to organic production, including direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance; and support for market development projects in targeted markets.
USDA Recognizes Organic Certifiers for Data Quality
At its January NOP Certifier Training, the National Organic Program recognized certifiers worldwide who are delivering high-quality data for the Organic Integrity Database and those who made outstanding contributions to organic certification. Congratulations, and keep up the good work!
Investing in INTEGRITY Data Quality Award recipients:
- ACO Certification Ltd. (ACO) – Queensland, Australia
- Aus-Qual Pty. Ltd. (AUS-QUAL) – Queensland, Australia
- Bio Latina S.A.C. (BIOL) – Lima, Peru
- CCOF Certification Services, LLC (CCOF) – Santa Cruz, CA
- Certificadora Mexicana de Productos y Procesos Ecologicos SC (CMEX) – Oaxaca, Mexico
- IMOcert Latinoamerica LTDA (IMOcert) – Cochabamba, Bolivia
- Marin Organic Certified Agriculture (MOCA) – Novato, CA
- New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food (NHDAMF) – Concord, NH
- Primus Auditing Operations (PAO) – Santa Maria, CA
- Yolo County Department of Agriculture (YDA) – Woodland, CA
- CCOF Certification Services, LLC (CCOF) – Santa Cruz, CA
- Midwest Organic Services Association, Inc. (MOSA) – Viroqua, WI
- Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) – Spring Mills, PA
Learn about improvements to USDA’s Risk Management Agency’s Whole-Farm Revenue Protection and the Micro Farm Program insurance options in workshops especially for specialty crop and organic producers. If you are at the Michigan Family Farms Conference February 25, you can attend in person. Otherwise, see the recordings for more information.
Organic Integrity Learning Center Adds Course on Growing the Organic Workforce
Information on recruitment, educational programs, training and more are part of the new Growing the Organic Workforce course available for free on the Organic Integrity Learning Center. The course is part of the National Organic Program’s Human Capital Initiative to foster and support the professional skills needed to protect the USDA organic seal.
Organic Industry News
According to the latest yearbook from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) and IFOAM – Organics International, just over 76.4 million hectares were under organic management worldwide in 2021, up 1.7% compared to 2020. Organic farmland increased in Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania, but decrease in the Americas.
“The World of Organic Agriculture” also showed that the United States continues to be the world’s leading market for organic products (€48.6 billion) followed by Germany (€15.9 billion) and France (€12.7 billion). Denmark has the highest market share for organic foods at 13%, and the Swiss spend the most per capita (€425).
Organic Produce Volume Down in 2022
The Organic Produce Network reports that organic fresh produce sales in the United States totaled 9.4 billion in 2022, and were up 3%. Volume declined 3.7% in that time. Organic fresh produce represents 12% of the market by dollar value, and 7% by volume. Organic and non-organic produce prices were up overall, with organic produce prices increasing 7% compared to the 9.2% increase for non-organic produce. Organic bananas remain at the top seller based on volume.
German Organic Market Slows
A return to pre-pandemic dining away from home and rising inflation slowed growth of organic food retail sales in 2022 in Germany, the world’s second largest organic market, reports the USDA Global Agriculture Information Network. Although prices for organic products did not rise as much as prices for non-organic products, the sector lacked a broad marketing campaign to capitalize on that fact. In 2021, over 10% of Germany’s agricultural land was managed by organic farmers. One out of seven farmers in Germany are now organic and the number continues to grow. More.
Fishmeal in Feed Suspected in PFAS Contamination
Researchers working with the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration recently found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in organic eggs there. Fishmeal for animal feed is the suspected culprit in the contamination, since PFAS accumulates in fish. Children who eat more than 2.5 organic eggs per week are considered especially vulnerable to the contamination.
IFOAM Organics Europe and the French Association of IFOAM Members have brought legal action before the Paris Court of Justice to stop the use of the “Eco-Score” product labeling system which ranks foods based on their environmental impact. Along with questioning the methodology used to calculate the scores, they argue that the Eco-Score label unlawfully associates the diminutive “Eco” with non-organic certified products and it will confuse consumers. More.
Pesticide Exemption Deemed Illegal
The European Court of Justice ruled that emergency exemptions in the European Union to allow the ongoing use of neonicotinoid insecticides, which are harmful to bees and overall biodiversity, are illegal. The ruling surprised sugar beet farmers in France who had been granted an exemption to use seeds treated with the insecticide. The General Confederation of Beet Growers there argues that organic methods to control beet pests are insufficient for large operations.
Spain Starts Taxing Single-use Plastic Packaging
Spain’s new tax on non-reusable plastic packaging, effective January 1, 2023, also applies to imported food products. The tax covers the manufacture, import, or intra-community acquisition of single-use plastics containers. It includes all non-reusable containers containing plastic or their non-reusable portion of plastic packaging. For imported products, the tax is the importer’s responsibility and manufacturers must provide their Spanish buyers with information regarding the amount of non-recyclable plastic packaging used in their products’ packaging. More.
Inside the Beltway
Among the 13 recommendations to the USDA for encouraging farmers to adapt to climate change and reducing federal fiscal exposure that can result from climate-related disasters, a new General Accountability Office report suggests using the organic certification program as a model for creating “climate-resilient” farm standards. Such standards could clarify for farmers which practices are climate resilient. Other suggestions included tying crop insurance premiums and commodity programs to the adoption of climate-related farm practices, collecting data on practices that improve climate resilience, and expanding technical assistance on climate resilience. The report does not connect the dots to suggest additional investment in climate smart practices that already exist—organic agriculture—as the Natural Resources Defense Council highlights on its blog.
Funding Programs for Agriculture and Rural Communities
USDA’s Rural Development program offers several funding opportunities of interest to the organic business community:
Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program will finance start-up or expansion projects for activities in the middle of the food supply chain, including infrastructure for food aggregation, processing, manufacturing, storage, transportation, wholesaling, and distribution. Applications are accepted until the funds are exhausted.
Intermediary Lending Program provides low-interest loans through local lenders. Businesses can apply for funding to improve economic conditions and create jobs in rural communities, with priority to projects help communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, advance equity, and combat climate change.
Agriculture Innovation Center Grant Program provides up to $1 million to establish and operate Agriculture Innovation Centers that provide technical and business development assistance to agricultural producers seeking to engage in developing and marketing value-added agricultural products. Applications due March 6.
USDA Ag Forum Will Include Organic
USDA’s Agriculture Outlook Forum, February 23-24 will be livestreamed and in-person in 2023. The Organic Outlook session will be February 24 from 3:30-5. Registration for virtual sessions is free.
The Survey Says…
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that fast food menu labels highlighting high climate impact could reduce red meat selections and encourage more sustainable choices. Study participants saw one of three label options: a quick response code label on all items (control group); green low–climate impact label on chicken, fish, or vegetarian items; or red high–climate impact label on red meat items. Compared to the control group, 23.5% more participants selected a sustainable menu item when menus displayed the red high-climate impact label.
Verify Environmental Claims to Build Trust
In its annual consumer trends overview, FrieslandCampina Ingredients highlighted the need to build trust for consumers who are increasingly skeptical about environmental claims even as health of the planet becomes a top priority. The report cites data from Mintel that 38% of consumers do not expect companies to be honest about their environmental impact. Furthermore, based on information from Compare Ethics, they report that 83% of consumers are more likely to trust third-party verified sustainability claims.
Under pressure from the United States to revoke its ban on genetically modified corn, Mexico has changed its ban on GMO corn. Although Mexico still intends to prohibit use of GMO corn for human consumption, the ban does not include GMO corn for animal feed or industrial uses such as cosmetics and paper. In January, the US Trade Representative sent a letter to Mexico’s economy minister requesting scientific evidence for the GMO ban and the risk assessments behind the decision. More.
Kenyan Farmers Sue to Overturn GMO Decision
As a result of a lawsuit brought by small-scale farmers, Kenya’s High Court has temporarily suspended the government’s decision to allow import and cultivation of genetically modified corn. The farmers assert that the decision was rushed, did not address health concerns, and threatens the tradition of saving seeds.