Audit Points to Problems with National Organic Program

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Washington, D.C.—Results from an internal audit of the National Organic Program (NOP) call into question its productivity and operations. Since a prior audit in 2005, officials made improvements by implementing corrective actions for eight of the 10 recommendations by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). However, the Department of Agriculture failed to handle complaints about potential violators for organic standards in an effective and efficient manner. Fourteen recommendations are included in the current internal audit. In addition to addressing complaints, the department must also better enforce standards and certifying regulations through the revocation/suspension of organic certification or the imposition of other civil or cash penalties.

Regulatory operations have been especially substandard in California, where the State’s Organic Program (SOP) was allowed to operate without NOP required compliance and enforcement procedures since 2004. The NOP believed that after the initial approval, the SOP would resolve deficiencies in the state. No timelines for the completion of these resolutions were established, and thus the state where the most organic acreage resides is now severely underequipped to properly enforce the requirements of the NOP. This domestic mismanagement is representative of problems that also exist with certification practices of organic imports, as well, where the failure to identify noncompliance and to complete certification files are only magnified abroad.

Beyond restructuring legislative administration, several more narrow recommendations were also suggested, such as the inclusion of periodic residue testing, annual evaluations of the NOP’s accreditation process, and the requirement of expiration dates on organic certificates. Periodic residue testing helps to evade the inclusion of substances that are not considered organic in products that are labeled as such. Completing annual reviews of NOP accreditations and organic certificates by a peer review panel pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act will help to improve case management and avoid widespread mismanagement, such as the case in point of California’s SOP.

The NOP plans to address these pressing issues through expanding the training of certifying agents and increase its staff and resources, which will be required in order to comply with the OIG recommendations. Such increases will demand monetary support, and the Obama administration has proposed a budget increase of $3.1 million to restructure NOP operating procedures.

 

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, May 2010