The USDA organic regulations describe the specific standards that farmers and processors must meet to use the word “organic” or the USDA organic seal on food, feed, or fiber.
Consumers purchase organic products expecting that they maintain their organic integrity from farm to market. Through enforcement, USDA creates a level playing field by taking action against farmers and businesses that violate the law and jeopardize consumer confidence in organic products.
Each year, a USDA-accredited certifying agent verifies that each organic operation is complying with the USDA organic regulations. This includes an on-site inspection, which can be either announced or unannounced. Additionally, at least 5 percent of certified organic operations’ products are tested for residues of prohibited substances (such as synthetic pesticides) every year.
USDA-accredited certifying agents and the public submit hundreds of complaints of alleged regulatory violations to the National Organic Program each year. If the violation is confirmed, these investigations often result in:
- Product label changes
- Uncertified farms and businesses becoming certified organic
- Enforcement actions
Depending on the severity of the violation, punishments can include financial penalties up to $11,000 per violation and/or suspension or revocation of the farm or business’ organic certificate. A suspended or revoked operation can’t sell, label, or represent its products as organic. Once the suspended operation meets any specified waiting period and can demonstrate full compliance with the USDA organic regulations, it can request that the National Organic Program reinstate its organic certificate.