Changes to the Organic Program under the Proposed Farm Bill

by Holland & Knight LLP
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[co-author: Barbara Efraim, Law Clerk]

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The House of Representatives released its proposed amendments to the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (more commonly referred to as the Farm Bill). The proposed Farm Bill was released last week, and in its current form, it amends the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) accreditation authority under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, 7 U.S.C. 6501 et al, and it imposes more stringent recordkeeping requirements.

Notably, the proposed bill would expand the certifying agent accreditation program by giving the USDA oversight and approval authority over certifying agents that are certifying farms and handling operations in foreign countries.1 Additionally, the proposed bill would require that each certifying agent operating in foreign countries subject to this new proposal renew its authorization every year. This is a significant departure from the current five-year accreditation period for all certifying agents under the Organic Foods Production Act.2

The current version of the bill would impose further recordkeeping requirements. All parties to a USDA investigation would be required to share confidential business information with the responsible federal and state agencies.3 Moreover, the USDA, acting through the National Organic Program (NOP), would be authorized to demand additional documentation or verification before granting the accreditation.4 The USDA will also have access to data from cross-border documentation systems administered by other agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).5 Among other things, the USDA will have access to phytosanitary certificates by use of the other agencies' systems, something it did not have access to before.

Congress will receive an annual report describing the NOP's activities concerning all domestic and overseas investigations and compliance actions taken.

Holland & Knight will continue to monitor the developments of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 as it moves along the legislative process.


Notes

1 Sec. 9006(a).

2 7 U.S.C. 6514(c).

3 Sec. 9006(e).

4 Sec. 9006(e). NOTE: The proposed bill limits these requests to cases of "a known area of risk or when there is a specific area of concern with respect to meeting the national standards for organic production." This is probably creating broad discretion for NOP/USDA to ask for additional documentation before accrediting a certifying agency.

5 Sec. 9006(e).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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