Biden administration announces move to fight ‘organic fraud’

Biden administration announces move to fight ‘organic fraud’

The USDA has updated its regulations on organic food labels, as part of an effort to close loopholes and increase confidence in the agency’s organic seal.

“This update to USDA’s organic regulations strengthens oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products.” the agency said in a statement Thursday.

Soup

Soups labeled organic are offered for sale at a grocery store on January 19, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty Images)

Pepper

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JANUARY 19: Black pepper labeled as organic is offered for sale in a grocery store on January 19, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty Images)

The USDA shared that the new rules, which will be the “biggest update to organic regulations” since 1990, are expected to provide “a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to bolster the confidence of consumers, farmers, and those in transition to organic production. “

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Previously, the USDA had a strict definition of “certified organic,” which allowed the label to be used only for products that met certain standards for soil quality, animal husbandry practices, pest and weed control, and additive use.

The new rules will strengthen certification requirements throughout the organic food supply chain, require certificates for imported products, and strengthen inspection protocols.

Vegetables

Vegetables labeled organic are offered for sale at a grocery store on January 19, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty Images)

Under the new requirements, non-retail containers must bear organic labels to “reduce mishandling of organic products” and “support traceability.”

“Protecting and growing the organic industry and the USDA Organic Seal of Trust is a key part of USDA’s Food Systems Transformation initiative,” said Assistant Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt.

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The Organic Trade Association praised the new rules, saying the policy “will have a significant and far-reaching impact on the organic sector and will do much to deter and detect organic fraud and protect organic integrity throughout the supply chain.”

Salad dressing

Salad dressing labeled organic is offered for sale in a grocery store on January 19, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty Images)

Salad

Vegetables labeled organic are offered for sale at a grocery store on January 19, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/Getty Images)

In a Federal Register notice, the USDA cited examples of organic food fraud in recent months.

This week, two Minnesota farmers were indicted for allegedly planning to sell more than $46 million worth of chemically treated crops as organic between 2014 and 2021.

In another case filed in Iowa in 2019, the defendant sold an estimated $142 million in non-organic grain over seven years, incorrectly claiming that the grain was organically grown in Nebraska and Missouri. Four people were sentenced to prison for the case.

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“This rule includes stronger verification and traceability practices that would have helped identify and stop this type of fraud sooner, preventing further sales of fraudulent products and reducing the impact of fraud,” the USDA said in the notice.

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