USDA Reminds Organic Importers of Requirements

July 13, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) enforces the USDA organic regulations for domestic and imported organic agricultural products through the National Organic Program (NOP). To ensure that imported products maintain their organic integrity, U.S. importers are reminded that products cannot be fumigated with prohibited substances or treated with irradiation.  Importers are responsible for ensuring that treated product complies with the USDA organic regulations.

Treatment of imported agricultural products may involve fumigation with substances prohibited for use in the handling of organic agricultural products such as methyl bromide, sulfuryl fluoride, and phosphine (aluminum phosphide or magnesium phosphide). Imported agricultural products may be treated with ionizing radiation, which is also prohibited. These treatments affect the organic status of imported agricultural products, when:

  1. the product is fumigated using a prohibited substance and that product comes into contact with the fumigating agent; or
  2. the product, in any instance, undergoes treatment using ionizing radiation.

Imported products treated with a substance prohibited by the USDA organic regulations, or that undergo ionizing radiation may not be sold, labeled or represented as having been organically produced or handled. The sale or labeling of such treated products as organically produced or handled may result in compliance actions against certified operations, as well as civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation for knowing violations by any person.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agriculture Specialists (CBPAS) perform agricultural inspections to ensure shipments do not pose a risk to U.S. agriculture or natural resources. Some commodities may require treatment upon entry into the United States, either because plant pests or diseases are detected, or as a mandatory condition of entry. When either of these conditions occur, CBPAS submit pest interceptions to USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) for identification. If the pest submission is determined to be a threat to the United States, the shipment may be treated as a required measure.

Prior to taking any action, Customs and Border Protection notifies responsible parties of a shipment’s mitigation plans; options are to either re-export, treat or destroy the shipment. As part of a pre-clearance process or pre-arranged operational work plan with the exporting country, some products are treated prior to arrival in the United States.

To protect the integrity of imported organic agricultural products and to ensure handling processes used during importation comply with the USDA organic regulations, the NOP encourages importers to review the NOP guidelines and other requirements outlined in the Fruit and Vegetable Import Requirement (FAVIR) Database. The FAVIR Database is an online reference that outlines import requirements for various commodities and countries. It provides easy access to regulations and information on fruit and vegetable imports into the United States. See https://epermits.aphis.usda.gov/manual/index.cfm?action=pubHome.

The NOP continues to work with APHIS and other federal partners to ensure the integrity of organic products around the world. Our efforts seek to enhance notifications to trade, improve identification of organic imports, and support increased transparency through data analysis. The NOP will issue further guidance on this issue in the future as we develop and implement improved partnerships and processes.