Miles McEvoy is the Deputy Administrator for the National Organic Program (NOP) housed within the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). He has worked in organic agriculture for more than 25 years and in 1988 was named the first organic inspector for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA).
Since October 2009 he has led the National Organic Program (NOP) in protecting organic integrity from farm to market. Under his leadership, the NOP implemented new enforcement procedures that have led to dozens of civil penalties and over half a million dollars in fines. In addition, the NOP published the National Organic Program Handbook which provides guidance and instructions to organic farmers, processors and certifiers on how to obtain and maintain organic certification.
Miles McEvoy provides insight on new USDA leadership, new NOP initiatives and his vision for the organic industry.
OPN Connect: Now that we have a new USDA Secretary of Agriculture, what are the biggest opportunities you see for the organic community?
The organic industry continues to grow and we see many opportunities to support farmers and ranchers across this country through the National Organic Program. These standards assure consumers that products with the USDA organic seal meet consistent, uniform standards. By statute, the National Organic Program’s organic certification and enforcement is a public-private partnership. USDA accredits and oversees 82 organizations, called certifiers that verify and document the claims of more than 31,000 organic farms and businesses around the world. The USDA organic regulations include strict requirements related to organic system plans, comprehensive process audits, and inspections that trace organic product from market to farm and from farm to market.
Ensuring the integrity of the USDA organic seal protects certified organic farms and businesses from false claims and ensures consumers that organic products are truly organic. As the market continues to expand, compliance and enforcement are front and center. We continue to conduct audits with certifiers and compliance audits with both certifiers and organic businesses. We are streamlining our complaint intake process and continue to post fraudulent certificates, issue adverse actions, and levy civil penalties for violations.
OPN Connect: What’s new at the National Organic Program? What resources should the organic community be aware of?
Providing training and other resources for organic handlers, certifiers, and inspectors continues to be a top priority. In addition to recently published training for certified handlers on how to protect organic integrity when working in complex supply chains, we regularly offer webinars for certifiers and handlers.
Also, our interactive scenario-based training for organic inspectors, The Path, follows an organic inspector through a full inspection – showing both the right way to conduct inspections, and seeing what can be missed if you don’t ask the right questions.
OPN Connect: Tell us more about the NOP’s enforcement activities, especially as it relates to imported products?
The National Organic Program has identified violations of organic regulations involving shipments of soybeans and corn entering the U.S. Enforcement actions are underway, and we are investigating other evidence related to other shipments of soybeans and corn. We need the entire industry to be vigilant – certifiers need to continue to review organic system plans and recordkeeping systems in a way that protects the organic integrity of imports, and operations need to confirm the integrity of the products they receive from others.
Both USDA’s National Organic Program and its partner certifiers issue adverse-action notices to operations when violations are found. In the past 5 years, USDA has suspended or revoked more than 900 organic operations because of violations of USDA’s national organic standards. We will continue to work with certifiers to highlight critical control points to audit during inspections, and provide training to handlers as well.
OPN Connect: How important is the NOSB is to the USDA? How do you work together?
The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is a federal advisory board made up of 15 volunteers representing diverse experience in the organic industry. The NOSB members develop proposals for public comment and recommendations to the USDA. They do a great service to the community through this work, and we appreciate their commitment. The National Organic Program provides technical and administrative support to the NOSB. The next NOSB meeting will be October 31- November 2, 2017, in Jacksonville, Florida. Public comments for the fall 2017 meeting are now being accepted. The public may provide written comments and there are two oral comment opportunities – one through a webinar before the meeting and one at the NOSB meeting itself.
OPN Connect: You’ve been involved in organic agriculture for a long time. What’s your vision for the industry as it continues to grow?
I am amazed of the transformation of this agricultural sector over the years. USDA has played an important role in helping these farmers, ranchers and businesses grow to meet consumer demand. I look forward to continuing to serve the organic industry – building the economic opportunities for American growers in our rural communities and ensuring the consumers know what they are providing for their families when they see the USDA organic label. I am proud of this work, and commend the work of the thousands of people who are working to build the organic sector every day.