The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) said Wednesday it levied $187,500 in civil penalties during the first quarter of FY2019, and negotiated four settlement agreements.
The first quarter penalties levied was more than six times the amount levied in all of FY2018, and matches the total of penalties levied in all of FY2017, when the agency negotiated 33 settlement agreements.
However, the first quarter penalties amount was well below the $341,000 that the NOP levied in the third quarter of FY2016. The agency had levied a record $1.9 million in penalties in FY2015.
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 first quarter FY2019 organic enforcement report that it received 83 complaints and completed 46 complaint reviews and investigations.
The NOP also said it fielded 53 “Incoming Questions/Inquiries” during the quarter, 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 first quarter of FY2019 also showed 198 suspensions and two revocations.
The NOP said it also received 14 appeals during the first quarter of FY2019, and closed four – two of which were closed because the appellants withdrew their appeals and two were closed because the NOP and the appellants reached settlement agreements.
In addition, the NOP said during the first quarter of FY2019 it issued:
- zero orders to cease and desist representing agricultural products as organic
- 12 notices of warning, which typically concern minor violations that have been corrected and advise businesses of penalties that may result from future violation
- 40 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.