Posted on November 26, 2018 by Sustainable Food News

USDA’s Nat’l Organic Program levies $31,000 in penalties

Report shows 49% increase in organic certificate suspensions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said Monday it levied just $30,750 in civil penalties during FY2018 after reaching settlement agreements with 14 organic operations.

The federal agency’s National Organic Program (NOP) said in its FY2018 organic enforcement report that it received 386 complaints and completed 338 complaint reviews and investigations.

The NOP included a new line item called “Incoming Questions/Inquiries,” which are inquiries “with insufficient evidence and/or questions that do not indicate a violation,” such inquiries, of which there were 183 in FY2018 are closed with correspondence.

The report showed 548 suspensions in FY2018, a 49 percent increase over FY2017, and 16 revocations.

The NOP also received 44 appeals during FY2018, and closed 24. In the fourth quarter of FY2018, one appeal was closed because the certifier and appellant reached a settlement agreement; one appeal was closed because the NOP and the appellant reached a settlement agreement; and one appeal was closed because no violation was found, the NOP said.

The agency said that not all settlement agreements include civil penalties and not all civil penalties were levied via settlement agreements, and the amount of civil penalties initially levied may change during negotiation of settlements and individual penalty payments may be outstanding.

In addition, the NOP said during FY2018 it issued:

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

In September, the NOP released information on settlement agreements with 15 foreign and domestic certified-organic operations, dating back to September 2017. However, the agency did not include the amounts of civil penalties the companies had agreed to pay. Organic operations may reach settlements with the NOP to avoid suspension or revocation of organic certification.

The breakdown for suspensions and revocations of organic certificates for previous fiscal years, according to the NOP’s Organic Integrity Database, looks like this:

  • 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

In the past five years, the NOP has suspended or revoked nearly 2,000 organic operations because of violations of federal organic standards.

Check out the enforcement reports for FY2017FY2016 and FY2015 enforcement reports.

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