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Organic Trade Association Responds: Organic imports and fraud


Maggie McNeil
(202) 615-7997
October 18, 2023
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The Organic Trade Association issued the following statement in response to PoliticoPro's article, "Watchdog: USDA's organic imports certification process allowing vast fraud" published on October 17.  

Fraud in the organic system – whether it occurs inside or outside the United States -- harms the entire organic sector and shakes the trust of consumers in organic. That is why the Organic Trade Association and the organic community continuously advocate for actions that will help detect and prevent organic fraud, and that is why we wholeheartedly support USDA's new Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule to bolster organic regulations and protect organic integrity throughout the global organic supply chain.

The "grower group" system in organic agriculture has been a widely accepted, viable and effective system for monitoring small organic producers, before and after the launch of the National Organic Program (NOP) in 2002. This system has enabled the very small producer, especially in the developing world, to enter into the organic marketplace and to provide an important income for the household. Grower groups, at the end of the day, are extremely crucial in producing such valuable commodities as spices, coffee, cocoa, and even sugar. 

The SOE rule, which goes into effect on March 19, 2024, addresses the certification of grower groups and, for the first time, adds specific requirements for group certification to the NOP regulations. SOE not only spells out the specific eligibility criteria needed to qualify for certification as a group, but also requires a strong Internal Control System to oversee and ensure compliance of group members with organic regulations. It establishes tougher standards for surveillance, training, inspection, auditing and sanctions of group members and the producer group operation. It also clarifies the higher qualifications for organic inspectors, tightens USDA’s authority over certification companies, creates uniform organic certificates, and increases access to organic data to verify foreign exports match foreign production. 

OTA is working with its members to ensure successful compliance of USDA's significant new rule, and we will continue to monitor the global supply chain to help prevent any incidences of organic fraud. We will continue to advocate for responsive and continuously updated organic standards that support the ever evolving and advancing organic sector. The USDA Organic label is the only food label in which instances of fraud come to the public light, and that's because it's the most tightly regulated agricultural system. It bears repeating that the vast majority of certified organic producers -- in this country and abroad -- are abiding every day by stringent organic standards. But that said, the transparent and factual reporting and coverage of fraud in the system is essential to maintaining the integrity of organic and the trust of consumers.