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The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced new "organic" guidelines that are designed "to close loopholes" that permitted ingredients that did not meet the criteria for "certified organic" to get into the organic supply chain.

The Washington Post reports that "the USDA has a strict definition of 'certified organic,' allowing the label to be used only for products that meet certain standards for soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives … Government standards require that products bearing the organic label are produced without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and 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."

Tom Chapman, chief executive of the Organic Trade Association, tells the Post that the updates represent 'the single largest revision to the organic standards since they were published in 1990.'  They should go a long way toward boosting confidence in the 'organic' label, Chapman said, noting that the move 'raises the bar to prevent bad actors at any point in the supply chain'."

The Post notes that there have been persistent problems in the organic supply chain:  "This month, the Justice Department announced indictments of individuals alleged to have masterminded a multimillion-dollar scheme to export nonorganic soybeans from Eastern Europe to be sold into the United States as certified organic. They were able to charge 50 percent more for 'organic' grain than conventional, the department said.  And this week, two Minnesota farmers were charged in connection with an alleged plan to sell more than $46 million in chemically treated crops as organic between 2014 and 2021."

Axios writes that "the changes include requiring those in the middle — such as traders and brokers — to be certified alongside the food producers themselves … There will also be more inspections and required certification for imports."

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” Jenny Lester Moffitt, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said in a statement. She added that “this success is another demonstration that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand.”

KC's View:

I'm totally on board with the ideas of more stringent standards that require organic products to actually live up to their name - to "stretch" the definition strikes me as fraudulent.  I just hope that the fines are onerous, to the point that the folks breaking the rules cannot decide that it makes more economic sense to break the rules and just pay the fines.