Major players like the Produce Marketing Association, the United Fresh Produce Association, and Western Growers went on record in support of new organic regulations just before an official comment period ended on Oct. 5. Advancing to the final rule writing phase also appears to have the support of the broader organic community.
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) plans to amend the organic regulations, saying the agency needs to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products.
Amendments are to protect integrity in the organic supply chain and build consumer and industry trust in the USDA organic label by strengthening organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, and providing robust enforcement of the USDA organic regulations.
Topics addressed in the proposed rule include:
- 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 the organic content of multi-ingredient products.
AMS asked for comments that addressed such specifics as:
- The clarity of the proposed requirements. Can certified operations, handlers, and certifying agents readily determine how to comply with the proposed regulations?
- The implementation timeframe. AMS is proposing that all requirements in this proposed rule be implemented within 10 months of the effective date of the final rule — this is also one year after the publication of the final rule.
- 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.
- Are there alternatives to regulations, or less stringent requirements, that could achieve the same objectives as the proposed rule?
- 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?
The PMA, WGA, and UFPA filed joint comments, saying strengthening the organic enforcement rule will toughen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products.
“We believe the rule will yield greater integrity and reliability in the organic supply chain and will continue to build consumer and industry confidence in the USDA organic label,” said the joint letter.
“We believe the rule will yield greater integrity and reliability in the organic supply chain and will continue to build consumer and industry confidence in the USDA organic label,” it added.
Comments filed by the produce groups suggested:
- Proposed quick turnaround on approval and issuance of the import certificate. Over the long term, the groups recommend a risk-based approach to certificate issuance and more close integration with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Automated Commercial Environment electronic collection and reporting system;
- Stated the regulation needs to more clearly define requirements for handlers that are not exempt;
- Requested more information on supply chain traceability provisions; and
- Proposed regulations need to be clearer on the different uses of non-retail containers.
Posted for a 60-day comment period on Aug. 5, the proposed changes drew 1,511 formal comments by the time the period ended on Oct. 5.
Among those filing were the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which 18 different support documents. The OTA represents 9,500 organic growers in 50 states.
“Continuous improvement in advancing organic standards is essential for building consumer and industry trust in the USDA Organic label,” says the OTA comment cover letter. “We look forward to working with USDA to strengthen the public-private partnership, and ensure the success of the USDA Organic label into the future.”
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