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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting comments on the Agricultural Marketing Service's proposed amendments to organic regulations concerning oversight and enforcement of the production, handling and sale of organic agricultural products. The proposed rule would require the use of National Organic Program Import Certificates for all organic products entering the United States and "[r]educe the types of uncertified entities in the organic supply chain that operate without USDA oversight—including importers, brokers, and traders of organic products." The proposed amendment also contains provisions that would clarify "the method of calculating the percentage of organic ingredients in a multi-ingredient product" and "conditions for establishing, evaluating, and terminating equivalence determinations with foreign government organic programs, based on an evaluation of their organic foreign conformity systems." Comments will be accepted until October 5, 2020.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) and several agricultural firms have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenging the agency's denial of the group's petition seeking to ban organic certification of hydroponic food growers. Ctr. for Food Safety v. Perdue, No. 20-1537 (N.D. Cal., filed March 2, 2020). USDA denied CFS's January 2019 petition, and CFS argues that the denial was arbitrary and capricious and violates the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). The complaint asserts that USDA ignored the National Organic Standards Board's 2010 recommendation against certifying hydroponic operations as organic and "issued a blanket statement" allowing certification that contradicted the recommendation of the board and a hydroponics task force. "USDA offered no supporting rationale for its statement. USDA made the statement in a website announcement, without any opportunity for public input and without taking any rulemaking action," the plaintiffs argue. Further, "USDA failed to explain…

The Kansas City Star has detailed the story of Randy Constant, a Chillicothe, Missouri, man who fraudulently sold millions of dollars' worth of "organic" grains—as much as 7% of all the corn and 8% of all the soybeans sold nationally as organic in 2016. Federal investigators began looking into Constant when a competitor tipped off the government that it was impossible for him to have such high outputs legitimately. An FBI investigation revealed that he sold $140 million worth of "organic" grain from 2010-2017 that, if labeled correctly, would have likely been worth half of that total. The Star asserts that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had received a complaint in 2007 about Constant's soybeans, which tests showed were genetically modified in violation of organic regulations, but the agency failed to take any action. Attorneys for Constant argued that his fraud was a victimless crime, but the court disagreed, sentencing…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published a set of changes to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, which documents the synthetic materials allowed or banned in the production and handling of organic agriculture. The amendments include the addition of "elemental sulfur for use as a molluscicide," the addition of "polyoxin D zinc salt to control fungal diseases" and the reclassification of magnesium chloride "from an allowed synthetic to an allowed nonsynthetic ingredient in organic handling." USDA also published a list of proposed changes and will accept comments on the proposal until December 17, 2019. The proposed rule would "add blood meal, made with sodium citrate, to the National List as a soil fertilizer," "add natamycin to the National List to prohibit its use" and "add tamarind seed gum as a non-organic agricultural substance for use in organic handling when organic forms of tamarind seed gum are…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a number of developments in their work on organic food, poultry and food safety. FDA released an update on the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), announcing it will track outcomes for FSMA rules for inspections and recalls via the Food Safety Dashboard. One metric the agency will track is how quickly a company issues a public notice for a Class 1 recall for human and animal food. FDA has also released guidance on recall plans for its multipart guidance on “how to comply with the requirements for hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls under our rule entitled ‘Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food.’” USDA updated the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) Program Standards to incorporate proposed changes published in April 2019, including the amendment of the testing…

In testimony before the House Agriculture Subcommittee, Under Secretary of Agriculture Greg Ibach suggested that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) could potentially be used in the production of organic foods eventually. "As the National Organic Standards Board set the rules originally, right now GMO or transgenics are not eligible to be in the Organic Program, but we've seen new technology evolve that includes gene editing that accomplishes things in shorter periods of time that can be done through a natural breeding process," Ibach stated. "I think there is the opportunity to open the discussion to consider whether it is appropriate for some of these new technologies that include gene editing to be eligible to be used to enhance organic production and to have resistant varieties—drought-resistant, disease-resistant varieties as well as higher-yielding varieties—available." Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released guidance on how human dietary exposure to newly expressed proteins in…

Eurojust, with Italian and Serbian national authorities, has arrested nine suspects allegedly perpetrating a "transnational large-scale fraud in the production and trade of allegedly organic food and beverages from rotten apples." The apples were apparently used to create juice, jams and other canned food products adulterated with "mycotoxins and other toxic chemical substances, unsuitable for human consumption and dangerous for public health." The products were "refined with water and sugars, and falsely labelled and promoted as organic products of European origin."

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging that Bareburger Group misrepresents its restaurants as selling only organic food despite using some non-organic ingredients in its products. Rosenberg v. Bareburger Grp., No. 19-1634 (E.D.N.Y., filed March 22, 2019). The plaintiff and Bareburger were the subjects of a New York Times article in August 2018 that explored the use of the term "organic" in restaurant advertising. The complaint asserts that Bareburger features the term "organic" throughout its signage, menu descriptions and marketing but does not ensure that the products are fully organic. "Defendant's executives confirmed that approximately 75 to 80 percent of the burgers were organic, not 100 percent, contrary to the labels," the plaintiff alleges, citing the New York Times article. "Defendant's 'Organic' restaurants have countless non-organic ingredients including lamb and bison and mayonnaise and tomatoes—crucial condiments when it comes to dressing up a purportedly organic burger." For allegations…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will accept nominations for five vacancies on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Each position on the board is categorized under the Organic Foods Production Act. USDA will accept nominations for: "One individual with expertise in areas of environmental protection and resource conservation"; "one individual who owns or operates an organic farming operation or employees of such individuals"; "one individual who owns or operates a retail establishment with significant trade in organic products or an employee of such individuals"; and "two individuals who own or operate an organic handling operation or employees of such individuals." The chosen candidates will serve on the NOSB from January 24, 2020, to January 23, 2025. Nominations will be accepted until May 20, 2019.

The Center for Food Safety (CFS) has filed a petition recommending that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibit the use of hydroponic agriculture in the cultivation of organic food. "Hydroponic production systems are fundamentally different from organic production systems as defined by federal law—they do not promote soil health or conserve biodiversity," the petition states. "Organic certification of hydroponics thus misleads consumers, because these products are indistinguishable from truly organically produced products with the same label." CFS argues that organic production by definition must include soil, citing the Organic Foods Production Act and noting that the statute and the National Organic Program's final rule implementing it do not include the words "hydroponic" or "soilless." The petition urges USDA to amend existing regulations to expressly prohibit hydroponic systems in organic production and revoke existing organic certifications issued to hydroponic operations.

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