The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) said Friday it levied just over a half million dollars in civil penalties during the second quarter of FY2019, its second highest ever.
The agency had levied a record $1.9 million in penalties in FY2015, and $341,000 in the third quarter of FY2016. The second quarter penalties were levied in four separate settlement agreements, and far exceeded the $187,500 in penalties levied in the first quarter as well as the scant $31,000 in penalties levied in all of FY2018.
The agency 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.
The NOP said in its second quarter FY2019 organic enforcement report that it received 67 complaints and completed 129 complaint reviews and investigations.
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 it fielded during the second quarter 60 “Incoming Questions/Inquiries,” which are inquiries “with insufficient evidence and/or questions that do not indicate a violation,” such inquiries are closed with correspondence.
The enforcement report for the second quarter of FY2019 also showed 126 suspensions and zero revocations. Fiscal year-to-date, NOP certifiers suspended 326 operations for noncompliance with organic standards in the six months from October 2018 through March 2019.
The NOP said it also received 18 appeals during the second quarter of FY2019, and closed seven – “one appeal was closed because the appellant withdrew their appeal; one appeal was closed because the certifier and appellant reached a settlement agreement; and five appeals were closed because the NOP and the appellants reached settlement agreements,” the NOP said.
- 3 orders to cease and desist representing agricultural products as organic
- 17 notices of warning, which typically concern minor violations that have been corrected and advise businesses of penalties that may result from future violation
- 12 referrals of investigations to accredited certifying agents, other federal agencies, state programs and international trading partners
In October, an audit by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) said the NOP lacks the personnel to handle the growing number of complaints it receives and take the enforcement actions necessary to maintain the integrity of the organic seal.