The USDA Organic Enhancement Enforcement Rule aims to eliminate fraud

Suspension

announced the Ministry of Agriculture New guidelines For products labeled “organic,” a term that was increasingly abused as shoppers sought food that was both healthy and environmentally friendly.

The US Department of Agriculture has a file strict definition “Certified Organic,” allowing the label to be used only for products that meet certain standards for soil quality, animal husbandry practices, pest and weed control, and additive use. The updates released by the agency Thursday are intended to close loopholes that allowed substandard components to slip into the supply chain.

Tom Chapman, CEO of the Organic Trade Association, said the updates represent “the largest single revision of organic standards since their publication in 1990”. They should go a long way towards strengthening Confidence in the “organic” label, Chapman said, noting that the move “raises the bar for preventing bad actors at any point in the supply chain.”

Millions of pounds of seemingly fake “organic” cereal is convincing the food industry that there may be a problem

The Chapman Business Association, which represents nearly 10,000 farmers in the United States, has been pushing for stricter guidelines for years, motivated in part by by a series of stories In The Washington Post In 2017, it was revealed that fraudulent “organic” foods were a widespread problem in the food industry.

However, problems with organic fraud persisted. This month, the Department of Justice Indictments announced From individuals who allegedly masterminded a multimillion-dollar scheme to export non-organic soybeans from Eastern Europe to sell to the United States as certified organic. The administration said they were able to charge 50 percent more for “organic” beans than for conventional beans.

And this week, two farmers in Minnesota charged In connection with an alleged plan to sell more than $46 million of chemically treated crops as organic between 2014 and 2021.

USDA officials said they were warning about organic food fraud. Congress decided they needed help.

“When rule-breakers cheat the system, it sows doubt about the integrity of the organic label and threatens the future of the industry as a whole,” Rep. Chelly Pingree (D-Maine) said in a statement. “As a longtime organic farmer, I know how expensive and time-consuming it can be to adhere to the required standards to obtain a USDA-certified organic label.”

Government standards require that products bearing the organic label be produced without the use of persistent and toxic pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering or other excluded practices, sewage sludge, or irradiation. It’s a high bar that even many farms that use more natural practices don’t meet.

Sales of organic foods in the United States have more than doubled in the past 10 years, jumping a record 12.4 percent in 2020 to reach $61.9 billion As consumers are becoming more interested in eating healthy foods, according to the Organic Trade Association. Experts predict that the category will continue to grow. Although some consumers consider “organic” synonymous with “healthy,” the science on whether organic food is healthier is mixed. Numerous studies It shows only a slight increase in some nutrients.

The supply chain for organic food producers has long been blighted, especially as the industry grows and large manufacturers source their ingredients from abroad, where it is difficult to verify whether they meet standards. Organic growers in the United States complain that allowing companies to market these products as “organic” creates an uneven playing field and undermines confidence in the label.

Major updates to the rules include requiring more companies, such as brokers and dealers, to be certified as important links in organic supply chains. It also requires organic certification for all organic imports and increases inspection and reporting requirements approved operations.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the USDA Trusted Seal is an essential part of USDA’s Transforming Food Systems Initiative,” said Jenny Lester Moffitt, Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, in a statement. She added, “This success is further evidence that the USDA stands fully behind the organic brand.”

The organic food industry is booming, and that can be bad for consumers

Some food industry organizations say they are not yet sure how difficult the new rule will be for members. Others are already saying the new rule doesn’t go far enough to root out fraud.

“I am absolutely concerned that everyone will declare victory and go home,” said Mark Castle, founder of OrganicEye, an advocacy group.

Castell said the agency “did slow” on the organics, and it took them 12 years to roll out regulations after Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act in 1990. He points to a long-running debate about whether large-scale dairies in the West are enough. Adhere to standards About how organically raised animals are treated. These dairies now produce the majority of milk labeled organic.

Castle said violations of the standards, which include giving cows time to graze outdoors, amount to a “betrayal of values ​​that justify consumers paying an exorbitant price for organic dairy products.”

The new rules will go into effect in March, and affected businesses will have one year to comply with the changes.

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