Climate Change,  Conservation,  Organic

New Year, New Organic Rules

a sign in front of a farm that reads "do not spray - organic"

Welcome to 2024! To help us ring in the new year, we wanted to highlight some recent changes to the USDA organic standards and share what’s on the horizon. There have been some notable updates to the standards, some of which will go into effect in 2024. While we still have significant room for improvement, these updates help to strengthen the USDA organic label and foster more consumer trust.  

Two Big USDA Updates

Thanks to input from organic farmers and consumers, the USDA organic standards have undergone some changes over the past two years. Critically, some major updates have been finalized which strengthen the organic program.  

  1. Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Rule: Finalized in January 2023, producers and handlers must comply with the final rule by March 19, 2024, which will continue to support growth of the market while improving transparency, traceability, and supply chain oversight to limit fraud. 
  2. Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) Rule: In October 2023, the long-awaited OLPS rule was signed into law, providing clarity and consistency for the organic production of meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs, and creating a more level playing field for producers. The rule just became effective on January 12, 2024.

Contact OEFFA Certification with any questions about how these new rules affect your organic operation.

Stronger Standards on the Horizon

OEFFA celebrates these updates to the organic standards. We encourage swift implementation and adequate enforcement by the USDA. We’re hopeful that 2024 will be an even better year for organic agriculture! 

More Money for the National Organic Program

Advocacy efforts have worked to convey the importance of organic agriculture and the need for its fair share of federal resources. In 2019, the annual budget of USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) was just $12 million

The FY2024 budget has been set at $24 million. This doubled amount will help to meet consumer demand for organic food by safeguarding organic integrity and supporting organic producers. 

Action on National Organic Standards Board Recommendations

While many gains have been made in recent years, there’s still work to be done. We’re hopeful that 2024 will bring attention to some of the items we’ve been advocating for through our comments to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB):

Field and Greenhouse Container Production: Soil is the foundation of organic agriculture, and we urge the board to call for a moratorium on the certification of new aeroponic operations, hydroponic operations, and crops grown to maturity in containers. We do not critique the process of growing food in containers. Rather, we wish to preserve organic certification to systems that are soil-based—which is centered in the origins of the organic movement and the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA 6513).  

Racial Equity: OEFFA celebrates the strides the Board and the NOP have made toward racial equity. The Organic Market Development Grants have a reduced cost share for underserved farmers and ranchers and there have been diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility resources in the NOP Human Capital Initiative. We look forward to seeing more work on racial equity in 2024. 

a cover of a position statement about organic agriculture being soil-based

Farmer Engagement in NOSB Process: We are thankful for having so many farmer leaders working with us to build relationships with the NOSB. Since NOSB meets in spring and fall when many farmers are busy planting and harvesting, we are especially grateful to NOSB member Amy Bruch for taking time to meet with OEFFA farmers in the winter. Having opportunities to listen and approach NOSB members with questions and needs is a big step in achieving the needs of local organic farmers. 

Organic is Climate-Smart: Farmers who use organic practices are stewards for future generations. Their practices enhance soil health, improve water holding capacity and infiltration, and conserve biodiversity. What’s more, organic agriculture both decreases greenhouse gas emissions and increases crop resilience to droughts and extreme weather. We are encouraging NOSB to assert these facts to USDA, to uplift organic farmers and increase their opportunities for funding and support from USDA. 

Continuous Improvement and Accountability

Action on NOSB Recommendations: Over the last 20 years, NOSB has made over a dozen recommendations for new and improved standards, which the National Organic Program has failed to implement through the rulemaking process. OEFFA is supporting the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act, which would enforce a five-year cycle within which NOP must act on NOSB recommendations. 

“As we work hard to implement the SOE and OLPS rules, we look forward to robust discussions with NOSB of greenhouse and container production, and of inert ingredients in pesticides; in turn, we expect and anticipate additional rulemaking by NOP in support of consistent standards based on NOSB’s many well-considered recommendations.” 

OEFFA Certification Program Manager Sal Pinkham

Improvements to Organic—Thanks to YOU

These updates would not have been possible without the persistence of farmers and consumers. Thank you for helping to make it possible. 

We invite you to continue advocating for a stronger, more transparent, and more equitable organic agriculture system. Get in touch with us to submit comments to the NOSB or find out how you can encourage your legislators to prioritize organic agriculture in the 2024 Farm Bill.