All Things Organic—Your Quarterly Industry Update #2
The organic world is taking off. In spite of a challenging environment with the current administration and agricultural policies in general, the US economy is doing well and organic products are growing with it. The Organic Trade Association recently reported that Organic sales in the United States exceeded 50 Billion dollars in 2018. The US organic community is somewhat frustrated by the pace of standards development, or, more accurately, the complete lack of standards development.
At the same time, as a former certifier who worked on important compliance and integrity issues, it was great to see two major developments from the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). First, the NOP released their May 2019 compliance and enforcement update. As usual, this update is full of interesting developments and reporting. Notably, the NOP discusses a move towards Risk-Based Complaints and Appeals Management. This new sophistication demonstrates how the NOP is pushing the envelope in terms of organic accreditation management.
The USDA is attempting to streamline actions and get simple answers out quickly while identifying major cases and handling them appropriately, even to the point of engaging law enforcement! The NOP additionally discusses a major dairy production audit project, and education and rulemaking efforts empowered by the Farm Bill passed in 2018.
The most amazing element we saw recently was a memo to NOP certifiers instructing them to be very careful working the black sea region and requiring robust new procedures for certification and accreditation in the area. After important detailed work including robust analysis of agronomic capacity, the USDA is putting forth strict requirements that help protect organic farmers globally. Requirements include unannounced inspections, sampling requirements, and create a very high bar. A memo like this speaks to organizational commitment and a robust enforcement direction.
At Intact we are happy to say that any certifier attempting to meet these requirements could do it more effectively using Ecert. Similarly, we believe that if many of the certifiers operating in the region used Ecert to provide the kind of oversight and reporting the system is capable of, some of these issues could have been avoided.
If you want to learn more about these capabilities consider attending the Intact Summit 2019 this month in Graz, Austria or visit us online at www.intact-systems.com.
New Enforcement Standards Coming in Fall 2019
While new standards that change practices are not being written currently, the USDA is actively working on the single biggest enforcement and system-level standards work since the launch of the NOP in 2002. The US organic community is anxiously awaiting the proposed rule, which is expected in Fall 2019. The proposal will be open for public comment for typically 90 days and may have an impact on organic operations worldwide, and may even affect equivalency arrangements.
The “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” rule is likely to be the single largest piece of rulemaking in the NOP’s history. It is intended to improve control systems, imports oversight, and solidify sections of the USDA organic standards. Many expect the rule to address expiration dates on certificates, mechanisms of enforcement, hard requirements for unannounced inspections, qualification of personnel and record keeping, and or tracking of import trade. It is also likely that certifiers will be subject to much more robust reporting of who they certify, where and for what. We have many thoughts about these elements and believe they can contribute to a more robust industry.
Longer term, we question the value of certificates and the need for expiration dates. In the end, we believe that the community is most well served by focusing on information and not documents. Expiration dates are an artifact of early systems. However, improving anything in organic is important and we applaud the USDA’s work to think about these issues.
Because our product Ecert is used for more than 50% of US organic certification work, we will ensure that Ecert is there to support US certifiers. In fact, we are confident that the rule will not impact certifiers using Ecert greatly as they will have the tools to meet the requirements.
Intact will be following these standards closely, providing feedback to our customers and the USDA National Organic Program directly, and ensuring that our systems fully support and exceed any requirements that organic CBs must meet in the future. We are confident that Intact users will be the best-positioned players to meet new requirements for CBs.
Mark Kastel leaves Cornucopia Institute. Without much explanation the co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, Mark Kastel, suddenly departed earlier this year after releasing a “Certifier Scorecard”. Kastel was an aggressive and somewhat divisive figure in US organic. Little is known about his sudden departure.
These are exciting times in organic certification as global trade reaches new heights and demands on Certification Bodies and their clients to manage integrity. Intact remains fully committed to supporting excellence in assurance ecosystems and ensuring that our solutions support the sector. Together we can ensure that organic systems continue to improve and CBs can continue to deliver new value, improved compliance, and integrity globally.