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OPN Connect Newsletter 330 · July 27, 2023

Get Ready! SOE Rules Are Upon Us


Though the USDA National Organic Program’s new Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule has a compliance deadline of March 19, 2024, now is the time to act.

During an educational session on the new SOE rule at the 2023 Organic Produce Summit, speaker after speaker warned the audience of organic leaders that there is no time to wait. All handlers of organic produce along the supply chain need to familiarize themselves with the regulations, determine the impact on their own company, and, most likely, start the process toward certification if they are not already certified.

OPS 2024 Retailer Reg square

"Change is Coming: Getting Fresh Produce Ready for the New Organic Enforcement Rule" ed session panel

In fact, Joelle Mosso, senior director of technical and regulatory affairs for the Organic Trade Association and moderator of the session, led off the conversation reviewing the timeline between the OPS July show and the start of enforcement nine months later. She said companies must be certified and need to start the process within the next 90 days if they expect to finish it by that March 2024 compliance deadline.

OPS attendees listening to the ed session discussion

Vitalis February 2024

“Now is the time and the moment to understand if the new rules will impact you,” she said.

One of the major tenets of the SOE regulations is to minimize the number of people involved in the organic produce supply chain who are not certified. There will be very few exemptions under the new regulations, Mosso said.

“Now is the time and the moment to understand if the new rules will impact you.” - Joelle Mosso

The SOE session featured Mosso along with Driscoll’s Vice President of Food Safety Compliance Bill Brodegard, Organically Grown Company’s CEO Brenna Davis, Produce Director Chris Miller of MOM’s Organic Market, and Kim Dietz, who is the co-founder of a new consulting company called Strengthening Organic Systems.

Fox Packaging January February 2024

Dietz opined that the biggest risk to the organic produce industry are those people unaware of the new regulations and the need to be certified.  Several speakers noted that a certified organic produce item will lose its organic status if it even passes through an uncertified facility in non-tamper-evident packaging.

Panelists Bill Brodegard, Vice President of Food Safety Compliance, Driscoll's, and Brenna Davis, CEO, Organically Grown Company

Brodegard said Driscoll's own packing and shipping facilities are certified, and the company is not worried about moving organic products through those operations. However, the company is concerned that downstream handlers, who are not certified, pressure the company to add layers of packaging that turn a flat or a clamshell of berries into a tamper-evident item. He quipped that this is not a “happy place” for the grower-shipper to have to go.

Hiwassee February 2024

Driscoll’s is also concerned about the new regulations covering import certificates. SOE requires each shipment to be “associated” with an import certificate but leaves the interpretation of that phrase up to the actual certifier.

Dietz opined that the biggest risk to the organic produce industry are those people unaware of the new regulations and the need to be certified. 

Brodegard said Driscoll’s is pushing for one import certificate to cover an entire season, indicating that it would be a paperwork nightmare if a certifier determined that an import certificate was needed with each truck load.

Davis of Organically Grown Company, a Portland, Oregon-based wholesaler, said there are some exciting elements in the new regs, including the standardization of certifiers and their certificates. There will be a database of all certificates and certifiers, with each certificate needed to be updated to the database within three days of its creation. Davis said this will make managing the certificates a much easier process.

Noting that it was incumbent on each company to reach out to their own supply chain, making sure their partners know of the new regs and how to comply, Davis advocated that all in the industry be proactive in assuring compliance by everyone else in the industry.

“Let’s help each other, lift each other up,” she said, adding that it is her experience that most companies simply do not have a good grasp of the new regulations.

Brodegard said Driscoll’s is pushing for one import certificate to cover an entire season, indicating that it would be a paperwork nightmare if a certifier determined that an import certificate was needed with each truck load.

OPS Retailer Reg leaderboard

Dietz made many of the same points, emphasizing that each company must take a look at their own supply chain and make sure everyone is in compliance. In fact, she said there will be gaps, and individual organic products will lose their certification because of that.

Panelist Chris Miller, Produce Director, MOM's Organic Market

From a retailer’s perspective, Miller expressed satisfaction that the new, stronger enforcement regulations have been developed. He said the organic industry is one of the few industries in the country that actually asked for more regulations to strengthen the seal and offer more transparency, something that his customers—the public—demand and deserve.

As an exempt retailer, Miller said MOM’s is working on tightening up its own standard operating procedures, so it can determine exactly what is on each pallet it receives and ensure there is no chance of contamination by a non-organic item, which would be cause for major concerns.

Miller said the organic industry is one of the few industries in the country that actually asked for more regulations to strengthen the seal and offer more transparency, something that his customers—the public—demand and deserve.

Mosso noted it was at the industry’s insistence that the 2018 federal Farm Bill contained funding to analyze the National Organic Program and make changes to make it better, stronger, and more fraud resistant. These new regulations grew from that effort, she said.

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