USDA moves to overhaul labelling to deter organic fraud

After multiple cases of organic food fraud eroded consumer confidence, the USDA moves to strengthen its oversight of organic production.
calendar icon 6 October 2020
clock icon 6 minute read

The National Organic Programme (NOP) opens economic opportunities and new markets for American farmers – but in the last several years, millions of dollars of non-organic products have been intentionally mislabelled and sold as organic, eroding consumer confidence in the certified organic programme and undermining farmers who adhere to the law.

To deter and detect this kind of fraud, a rule proposed by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) would strengthen oversight of the production, handling, certification, marketing, and sale of organic agricultural products.

A strong supporter of clear, consistent, and accurate food labelling, National Farmers Union (NFU) has previously expressed concern about behaviours that threaten the integrity of the organic seal. In comments submitted today and an accompanying statement, NFU President Rob Larew echoed those concerns and urged USDA to finalise the rule.

“While commodity prices have languished, family farmers have pursued opportunities to differentiate their products and maximise profit margins. One such opportunity is organic certification, which allows farmers to earn a premium for certain management practices. However, the financial advantages of certification depend on consumer trust in the label – something that has been undercut by bad faith actors looking to take advantage of price premiums without doing any of the work to earn them.

“Inaccurate organic labelling misleads and cheats consumers, harms the reputation of the label, and cuts into the profits of farmers who play by the rules. We owe it to both food producers and purchasers to enforce organic standards, without exception. By expanding oversight of the organic supply chain, strengthening import certification, and improving traceability, the proposed rule will help prevent fraudulent activities that weaken the organic label. It is essential that these new regulations do not disadvantage small-scale farmers or businesses, who already face significant obstacles to accessing organic markets. With that in mind, USDA should act swiftly to finalise this rule and ensure the integrity of the organic label.”

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