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By Nate Ensrud, Vice President of Technical Services, Certification & Food Safety Solutions at FoodChain ID  

Implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Rule is now upon us as it becomes effective today. Operations – including both currently certified and newly impacted uncertified handlers of organic products – must meet all requirements in the rule by March 19, 2024. Aiming to thwart organic fraud and protect the integrity of the organic supply chain, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) SOE rule went into effect on March 20, 2023. The SOE also aims to improve farm-to-market traceability. 

The rule affects most organizations in the organic supply chain. The USDA estimated 4,000 to 5,000 companies would need new certification; however, the net change in USDA National Organic Program (NOP) certified organic operations in the United States was essentially zero over the past three months. This is concerning. A non-compliant company not only affects its own business but others in the organic supply chain. Based on the USDA NOP data, we believe non-compliance will occur and be disruptive because many organizations that historically did not require certification think they are exempt, but now they are not.

The SOE rule calls for more rigorous certification practices throughout the organic supply chain – including importers, exporters, brokers, traders, and storage facilities that were previously exempted – addressing gaps that created more opportunity for fraud in the past. Businesses that buy, sell, trade, or import organic products are required to hold organic certification from an independent certification body. Businesses that already hold certification, such as existing production and handling operations, must comply with the changes the new rule enforces. 

Operators must be certified if they are performing specific activities such as combining, aggregating, culling, conditioning, treating, packing, containerizing, repackaging, labeling, storing, receiving, loading, and coffee roasters. Locations, such as ports of entry, grain elevators, bakeries and kitchens serving grocery chains, and warehouses must obtain certification. Individuals acting as freelancers must be certified if they act as sales brokers, commodity traders, ingredient sources, importers, and exporters.

There are complexities to the SOE rule that may be confusing to many organizations. For organizations that need to be certified and have not done so, an organic certification company with expertise provided by an extensive support team is the best means to receive faster service and processing, as the smaller certifiers have more limited resources. To manage supply chains more effectively, organizations should also consider engaging with an organic certification company that offers a multi-assessment certification management system that allows management of both Non-GMO Verification & USDA Organic certification in the same platform. 

Even at this late date, there are actions for all organic organizations to strongly consider:

  • For organizations that are certified, we recommend they survey their organic suppliers and distribution partners to be sure they are in compliance.
  • For organizations unsure if they should be certified or not, it is imperative that they engage with a certification provider immediately for quick assessment and, if necessary, to begin the compliance process.

Nate Ensrud, is Vice President of U.S. Technical Services, Certification, and Food Safety Solutions at FoodChain ID, one of the largest organic certifiers in the United States. Nate is a 20-year veteran of the food industry, including positions with Nutritional Chemistry and Food Safety, Covance, Food Integrity & Innovation.


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