Posted on May 15, 2020 by Sustainable Food News

Nat’l Organic Program: Fraud just 11% of closed enforcement cases

Agency's new format for enforcement report shows number of incoming investigations, inquiries plummeting from 2019 to 2020

The USDA’s National Organic Program’s (NOP) said Thursday that at the end of the second quarter of FY2020 it had 474 enforcement cases in progress, 53 percent of which were uncertified organic claims.

The agency broke down the percentages of cases it was handling for the quarter ended March 31 like this:

The NOP also said that it closed 504 cases in the 12 months ended March 31. The breakdown of outcomes of those case looks like this:

For years, the format of the quarterly enforcement report included information such as the amount of penalties levied against operations for violating or allegedly violating organic regulations; the number of suspensions and revocations; the number of orders to cease and desist representing food products as organic; the number of notices of warning issued; and the number of referrals of investigations to accredited certifying agents.

But starting in the first quarter of FY2020, the NOP reported enforcement in a new graphic-heavy, data-light format, which it said was “based on feedback from the organic community … to provide more context and better answer frequently asked questions.”

The new format also included this graph which shows the number of incoming investigations and inquiries plummeting from 2019 to 2020 without explanation. A request for more information from NOP was not immediately returned.

See the NOP’s Q2 FY2020 enforcement report here.

In November, the NOP published its last enforcement report in the previous format, saying it levied more than $800,000 in civil penalties during FY2019, which ended Sept. 30, after reaching settlement agreements with 36 organic operations.

The FY2019 organic enforcement report also showed 595 suspensions in FY2019 and 14 revocations. For previous years, the numbers look like this:

  • 2018: 548 suspended and 16 revoked
  • 2017: 368 suspended and 17 revoked
  • 2016: 233 suspended and 17 revoked
  • 2015: 213 suspended and 18 revoked
  • 2014: 182 suspended and 17 revoked
  • 2013: 169 suspended and 18 revoked

The NOP also said that during FY2019 it received 374 complaints and completed 670 complaint reviews and investigations, nearly double the number in FY2018. The NOP said cases involving complaints about uncertified businesses selling products as organic account for more than 50 percent of complaints it receives.

The NOP also said there were 291 “Incoming Questions/Inquiries,” which are inquiries “with insufficient evidence and/or questions that do not indicate a violation,” of which there were over 100 more than in FY2018.

The NOP said it closed 34 appeals in FY2019, 16 of which occurred in the fourth quarter “because the NOP and the appellant reached a settlement agreement.”

The NOP said that not all settlement agreements include civil penalties and not all civil penalties were levied via settlement agreements. The NOP also said that the total amount of penalties reflects what was initially levied, but that those amounts may change during negotiation of settlements and individual penalty payments may be outstanding.

In addition, the NOP said during FY2019 it issued:

  • 8 orders to cease and desist representing agricultural products as organic
  • 152 notices of warning, which typically concern minor violations that have been corrected and advise businesses of penalties that may result from future violation
  • 105 referrals of investigations to accredited certifying agents, other federal agencies, state programs and international trading partners

Check out the FY2019 NOP enforcement report.

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