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Wolf & Associates - Strengthening Organic Enforcement

Strengthening Organic Enforcement

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule is the biggest change in organic regulations since the creation of USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). This initiative clarifies & enhances several sections of the standards the industry operates under and represents the high integrity that consumers have come to expect of the USDA Organic seal.

The final rule was published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2023 with a 14-month implementation period; all new elements will be enforced March 19, 2024. We urge those impacted not to delay in making the required adjustments. This is the single most significant change in the regulations in 20 years, and it impacts 100% of the roughly 45,000 certified operations globally.

These changes will mitigate and further minimize fraud in the system, strengthen the integrity of the organic seal nationally and enhance and build on existing programs, ensuring the organic seal continues to be valued for its integrity. Importantly, this initiative ensures that consumers receive the organic value they deserve.

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Fewer Excluded Operations

Roughly 4,000 formerly excluded operations – mostly traders and brokers who facilitate sales of organic ingredients and products – are now mandated to be certified as independent operators.

Organic Fraud Prevention

All certified operations must now formally assess vulnerabilities in their supply chains and operations and create Fraud Prevention Plans to comply with new SOE requirements for Organic System Plans. We are a Trusted Advisor in the Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions (OFPS) program offered by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which complies with and goes beyond the SOE requirement to provide industry leading best practices.

Mandatory Import Certificates

SOE requires NOP import certificates to be associated with all organic imports from all countries, allowing a thorough accounting of the totality of imported organic goods. Certified operators’ supply chain partners will need to ensure that such documentation is entered into the required data system in a timely fashion to avoid delays or rejections of ingredients or finished products at the ports of entry.

Recordkeeping & Audit Trails

SOE updates regulatory language significantly impacting recordkeeping requirements such as audit trail details and mass balancing abilities, creating a new term, Supply Chain Traceability (SCT). All operations will have a SCT audit done at least annually.

Grower Groups & Internal Control System Management

SOE adds consistency for all certifiers and adds criteria, including internal control system requirements and certifier inspection requirements for grower group certification. This is a major consideration for any company with such goods in their production or supply chain, coffee, spices, sugar, cocoa, and tea for example.

Non-Retail Label Changes

A small but important change of SOE is to clarify what information is needed on non-retail containers to make it clear how the identifying information connects to the SCT documentation previously discussed.

Changes to Certificate Issuance & Annual OSP Updates

SOE adds consistency for all certifiers to now issue certificates from a single source, the NOP’s Organic Integrity Database (OID); this will make it much harder for fraudulent certificates to pass as legitimate. It also will standardize certificate content and format to allow for more efficient and effective verification.

Changes to OSP and Inspection Cycles

SOE adds consistency for all certifiers in defining what ‘annual’ and ‘certification year’ is defined, now meaning the calendar year. This will impact many operations whose production or processing cycles overlap the calendar year end.

More resources:

W&A Webinar: Your Roadmap to Successfully Navigating SOE Regulations – Presented March 1, 2023
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service SOE Fact Sheet
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service SOE Final Rule Primers
Organic Trade Association Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions – W&A is a Trusted Advisor for this program.
USDA National Organic Program: Electronic Organic Import Certificates
Organic INTEGRITY Database – Up to date information about operations that may and may not sell organic agricultural products. It now includes an international Trade Partner Module (GLOBAL) as a part of implementing the SOE final rule.