Biden administration announces action to tackle ‘biological fraud’

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

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

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: Organic labeled black pepper is listed for sale at 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 organic regulatory update” since 1990, hope to provide “a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to build consumer confidence, farmers and those switching to organic production”. . “

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Previously, the USDA had a strict definition of “certified organic,” allowing the label to be used only for products that met certain standards for soil quality, husbandry practices, pest control, and weeds. herbs and use of additives.

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 will have to carry organic labeling to “reduce mishandling of organic products” and “support traceability”.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the USDA Organic Trust Seal is a key part of USDA’s Food Systems Transformation Initiative,” said Jenny Lester Moffitt, Undersecretary for Marketing and Programs. of regulation.

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

Vinaigrette

A salad dressing labeled organic is offered for sale at 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 advisory, 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 prosecuted in Iowa in 2019, the defendant sold some $142 million worth of non-organic grain over seven years, falsely claiming the grain was grown organically in Nebraska and Missouri. Four people were sentenced to prison in this case.

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

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