Enforcement is a vital part of the global organic control system. By law, organic certification and enforcement in the United States is a public-private partnership. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) National Organic Program (NOP) accredits and oversees 80+ organizations, called certifiers. Certifiers verify and document the claims of more than 37,000 organic farms and businesses around the world.
Together, AMS and organic certifiers protect consumers by protecting the integrity of the USDA organic seal. This partnership creates a level playing field and a fair marketplace for farmers, ranchers, and food handlers. Our goal is to make sure all organic businesses are complying with the rules, and to remove the organic certification of those that will not or cannot comply.
Enforcement by Organic Certifiers
Certifiers enforce the USDA organic regulations by:
- Inspecting every certified organic farm and business at least annually
- Conducting unannounced and compliance inspections
- Collecting samples to analyze for pesticides and other prohibited substances
- Investigating alleged violations on behalf of USDA
- Issuing noncompliances notices to operations when violations are found
- Entering into settlement agreements with operations, with terms that correct outstanding violations and quickly bring the business into full compliance
- Suspending or revoking organic certification if organic businesses fail to comply with the rules. A suspended or revoked operation can’t sell, label, or represent its products as having been organically produced or handled.
Enforcement by AMS
AMS, through the NOP, also conducts enforcement activities. The NOP:
- Oversees certifiers, conducting regular audits of their certification activities
- Investigates hundreds of complaints submitted to the NOP each year
- Issues Notices of Warning and Cease and Desist Orders, and suspends and revokes certifiers and/or operators based on audit or investigation outcomes
- Levies financial penalties of up to $11,000 per violation when evidence shows that a business has violated the regulations, or has represented products as organic without certification
- Access list of suspended and revoked farms and businesses. This list in the Organic Integrity Database includes currently suspended and revoked organic operations. A suspended or revoked operation can’t sell, label, or represent its products as having been organically produced or handled.
- Submit a complaint to the NOP. Do you have evidence that a farm or business is violating the organic regulations? Learn how to submit a complaint.
- Review fraudulent certificates. The NOP protects the organic trade and consumers by regularly posting fraudulent organic certificates.
- Access Certifier Accreditation Certificates and Audit Reports. In the Organic Integrity Database, click on any certifier’s name to open its certifier profile. On the right side of the screen, look for a link to the certifier’s most recent accreditation certificate and accreditation documents.
- Appeal an Adverse Action. Do you want to appeal an adverse action from a certifier or the NOP? Learn how to submit an appeal.
- Learn about the Joint U.S.-Mexico Organic Compliance Committee. USDA has initiated a Compliance Committee with Mexico to strengthen monitoring and enforcement controls on organic products traded between the two countries.
Review NOP Enforcement Activity
NOP Compliance & Enforcement/Appeals Reports
Each quarter, the NOP posts an enforcement report, summarizing activities taken by the agency in previous periods:
- FY 2017 Report – Second Quarter (pdf)
- FY 2017 Report – First Quarter (pdf)
- FY 2016 Summary Report (pdf)
- FY 2015 Summary Report (pdf)
USDA Agreements and Decisions
The USDA often engages in administrative and judicial proceedings to resolve noncompliance notices or to implement a proposed action such as a Cease and Desist Notice or a Proposed Suspension or Revocation. The following pages link to the outcomes of these proceedings.
- Settlement Agreements - Issued to resolve proposed adverse actions and to bring a certifier or operator into full compliance in a fast and efficient manner.
- AMS Decisions – Issued when NOP issues a Suspension or Revocation or when the AMS Administrator issues a Decision on an appeal.
- Administrative Law Judge Decisions - Issued when USDA files a complaint against a certifier or operation and/or a certifier or operator appeals an AMS Administrator Decision.
- USDA Judicial Officer Decisions - Issued when a certifier or operator appeals an Administrative Law Judge Decision.