Published: August 8, 2020

Category: Organic News, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced its “Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Proposed Rule” to stop fraud in organic imports and domestic U.S. production.

According to USDA, the SOE aims “to strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products. The proposed amendments are intended 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.”

As organic supply chains have become longer and more complex, the possibility—and reality—of fraud has increased. In 2017, an investigative report by the Washington Post described several large shipments of grain claiming to be organic but were, in fact, conventional. In the past year, several Midwest farmers were convicted of a $140 million organic grain fraud scheme from 2010 to 2017.

The SOE includes the following provisions, among others:

  • Requires that organic importers, brokers, and traders of organic products be certified organic under the National Organic Program (NOP) rules. These entities had previously operated without NOP oversight.
  • All organic imports must be electronically reported to and monitored by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • Requires the use of NOP Import Certificates, or equivalent data, for all organic products entering the United States.
  • Organic certifiers will be required to make unannounced on-site inspections of certified operations and must conduct full supply chain audits of high-risk products.
  • Requires certified operations and certifying agents to develop improved recordkeeping, organic fraud prevention, and trace-back audit processes.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) expressed support for SOE, saying in a statement that it would “fundamentally transform the oversight and enforcement of organic production worldwide.” Further OTA said it “supports strong public and private sector measures to protect against fraud, deepen transparency across the organic supply chain and ensure consumer confidence in the Organic seal.”

OTA has also taken steps to address fraud, launching a member-driven, industry-wide Fraud Prevention Solutions Program that organic businesses can enroll in to deter and eliminate organic fraud. 

Ryan Koory, director of economics at organic market data firm Mercaris, also praised the new rule.

“These changes would mark a turning point in organic market transparency, the importance of which it is difficult to overstate,” he said.

To view the “Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Proposed Rule,” visit: