NOP Issues Interim Instruction Regarding Organic Imports

November 7, 2017By Riëtte van Laack

As we previously reported, the integrity of imported organic products has been questioned. International supply chains are becoming increasingly “complex” and frequently involve a number of businesses which may be certified under different programs.

Foreign organic operations are subject to the same requirements as domestic organic operations, and only organic products verified to be in compliance with these regulations or arrangements can be imported for sale into the United States. Foreign operations may export their organic products into the United States under one of three scenarios: 1) They are certified organic by USDA-accredited certifiers under USDA organic regulations; 2) They are organic certified under a foreign standard that NOP has determined to be equivalent to the USDA organic standard; or 3) They are certified organic by foreign certifiers accredited by a foreign government to USDA standards. Organic certifiers must assess whether the imported products comply with U.S. law. As has become clear, review of an organic certificate is not sufficient. What else is needed?

On October 25, 2017, the USDA AMS National Organic Program (NOP) announced the availability of a new interim instruction regarding import of organic products. According to the Federal Register notice, the instruction is intended to clarify and strengthen compliance with existing regulations applicable to imports.  Although NOP does not specifically say so, the interim instruction appears to be an effort by NOP to address at least some of the criticisms and weaknesses identified by OIG and other parties.

The interim instruction for certifiers describes what information and documentation organic certifiers should consider when evaluating the organic integrity of imported products. The instruction also alerts certifiers to procedures that federal and state agencies may require (e.g. fumigation and radiation) which may be inconsistent with organic standards.

NOP invites interested parties to submit comments. It is particularly interested in the parts of the instruction that “recommend best practices . . . to ensure compliance with the USDA regulations.” Comments must be submitted by December 26, 2017.