The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule on January 19, 2023.
The rule goes into effect on March 20, 2023, with a transition period of one year to comply. This means that the USDA-NOP is giving until March 19, 2024, to implement the rule.
What is SOE?
Strengthening Organic Enforcement, or SOE, is a rule amending the USDA organic regulations with the purpose of strengthening oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products. The SOE is intended to reduce fraud in the organic marketplace, strengthen oversight of organic producers, handlers, and certifiers; and improves USDA’s enforcement mechanisms.
What Does SOE Do in a Nutshell?
The SOE rule protects organic integrity and bolsters consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal.
The final SOE rule:
- Reduces the number of uncertified entities in the organic supply chain.
- Requires use of electronic import certificates.
- Strengthens recordkeeping and supply chain traceability.
- Clarifies Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) authority to oversee and enforce organic trade.
- Strengthens oversight of accredited certifying agents
Who is Impacted by SOE?
Currently Certified Organic Operations
- Are required to maintain records that trace products back to the last certified operation – This is another key benefit of getting everyone in your supply chain certified!
- Are required to document the monitoring practices used to prevent fraud and verify suppliers and products.
- Are required to clearly identify products as organic on records and labels
- Submit updates to OSPs during certification renewal
- Certifiers and operations must use the electronic NOP Import Certificate for organic products imported to the U.S.
Uncertified Brokers, Traders, Brand Owners, Importers and Exporters
SOE reduces the number of uncertified entities in the organic supply chain and puts an emphasis on registration over exemption. If you are involved in the organic supply chain, do business in USA or with USDA-NOP certified products, and you are not yet certified, then you will be impacted. While some exemptions to certification exist, the USDA is indicating an emphasis on voluntary certification for these operators.
SOE expands the types of operations that must be certified.
- Any operation that produces or handles organic products must be certified, unless they are exempt.
- Handle includes trade, export, import, or facilitate the sale or trade of an organic product.
- Some supply chain intermediaries that currently do not require certification, such as traders, commodity brokers, or importers, must become certified.
SOE allows limited exemptions for some low-risk businesses.
- An operation with annual sales less than $5000
- A retail establishment that does not process the organic products, or only processes them at point of final sale.
- Some shipping and handling operations, under very limited conditions (e.g., they only handle products sealed in tamper evident packaging).
- Customs brokers
Exempt businesses are only exempt from certification. They still have handling and recordkeeping requirements.
Even businesses that do not physically handle products may still need to be certified.
- A broader range of retailers are exempts from certification (including restaurants and stores that cook or prepare food).
- Online retailers that process but don’t have a physical location where they sell products must be certified.
- Wholesalers that only sell retail-packaged products are exempts from certification.
- Wholesalers that sell bulk products or nonretail-packaged products must be certified.
- Warehouses and storage operations that only store packaged organic products are exempt. This includes both retail and nonretail packaging.
- Operations that store bulk or unpackaged products must be certified.
- Transportation or transporting from one certified organic operation to the next or to the final retailer does not require certification
- However, unloading or loading of unpackaged products into or from storage can not
Uncertified operations that will now be required to be certified as of March 19, 2024 can apply for certification at email@example.com
The certification process may take up to 12 weeks and thousands of operations will need certification. Do not wait, contact us today!
Where can I find more information on SOE?
The USDA has provided a host of informative tools on the Strengthening Organic Enforcement webpage. These include a Fact Sheet as well as a comprehensive side by side comparison. The new requirements have also been fully incorporated into the National Organic Program rules online. In addition, NOP recently published in the Organic Integrity Learning Center, NOP-350: Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Final Rule Core Course. Communication to clients by CUC: Communication – SOE
- USDA – Strengthening Organic Enforcement: Strengthening Organic Enforcement | Agricultural Marketing Service (usda.gov)
- SOE Fact Sheet: Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Final Rule (usda.gov)
- Side by Side comparison: Strengthening Organic Enforcement: Comparison of Old and New Regulatory Text (usda.gov)
- Organic Trade Association-Fraud Prevention Solutions: Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions | OTA
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If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!