Strengthening Organic Enforcement

Strengthening Organic Enforcement | Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Feb 28, 2024

Following a year-long implementation period, the USDA’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule will take effect on March 19, 2024. As this date nears, SCS is mobilizing to support businesses as they streamline operations and adapt workflows to be compliant with the new regulations. With the new SOE rule standing as the most substantial change to the National Organic Program (NOP) since its establishment in 2001, companies engaging with the production, handling, and sale of organic agricultural products should be prepared to understand and implement these changes well in advance of the deadline. 

Below, SCS has compiled some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the new SOE regulations.

What is the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule?

The SOE final rule, published January 2023, is an amendment to the USDA organic regulation designed to reduce fraud in the organic marketplace. The rule aims specifically to strengthen oversight of organic producers, handlers, and certifiers, and to improve the USDA’s enforcement mechanisms. Part of the reason for the USDA’s development and implementation of the new SOE comes from the understanding that in recent decades organic supply chains have become increasingly complex — and consequently, riskier in terms of traceability. SOE serves not only to prevent fraud along the organic supply chains, but also to increase oversight within the organic supply chain.

What does SOE do?

Ultimately, USDA expects to reduce instances of fraud within the organic supply chain through the implementation of SOE. Also, as explained in the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) fact sheet, the new rule “protects organic integrity and bolsters consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal.” Some of the major outcomes of SOE include:

  • Reducing the number of uncertified entities in the organic supply chain
  • Requiring the mandatory use of electronic import certificates
  • Enhancing recordkeeping to support supply chain traceability
  • Clarifying the authority the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has to oversee and enforce organic trade
  • Strengthening USDA NOP oversight of accredited certifying agents

Who is impacted by SOE?

USDA expects that the new SOE rule will impact all producers, processors, and handlers of organic products, and all organic certifying agents and inspectors. In addition, most organic supply chain participants who are currently not certified organic will need to become certified. One of the most significant impacts of SOE is the requirement that most supply chain participants including brokers, traders, exporters, and importers obtain certification.

Who needs to be certified?

The SOE final rule makes clear who will need to be certified when implementation of the regulation takes effect on March 19, 2024. As the Organic Trade Association explains, the SOE’s expansion of certification includes “operations that are trading, facilitating sale or trade on behalf of a seller or oneself, importing, and/or exporting organic products.” Businesses selling organic ingredients to other businesses will need to be certified, including those businesses that sell a single organic ingredient in bulk or as a non-retail product.  The rule makes clear that “most operations that operate in the middle of organic supply chains must be certified organic” (see this paragraph in the Federal Register), including all operations that export or import products to and from the US. 

Who qualifies for exemption under SOE? 

There are limited opportunities for exemption under SOE. While exempt operations are not required to be certified to the organic regulations, certification is more often the better choice to eliminate a break in the organic supply chain. Operations described in 205.101 may be considered exempt, but to be certain, contact the SCS Organic Program.

The most significant exemptions granted under the new rule are:

  • operations that are retail establishments and that do not otherwise process organically produced agricultural products 
  • operations that only handle products already labeled for retail sale that are enclosed in sealed, tamper-evident packages or containers and are not otherwise handled by the operation. 

There are also exemptions for customs brokers and operations that only arrange for the shipping, storing, or transport of organic products, such as logistics brokers.

Will operations outside the US have to be certified?

SOE applies to operations both within and outside of the United States. Any operation who exports products to the US requires certification, including exporters of retail products.

How will organic certified manufacturers located outside of the United States be impacted by SOE?

All organic manufacturers operating outside of the US and shipping, importing, or selling to the US will require certification. Entities certified to organic standards with an established equivalency agreement with NOP (Canada, EU, Switzerland, Great Britian, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) will not be required to certify to the NOP standard and may continue to export their organic products under the established equivalency agreement.

How is the NOP import certificate managed? 

The NOP import certificate is generated by the exporter’s accredited certifier in the NOP Organic Integrity Database (INTEGRITY), which acts as a registry of certified organic operations. It is the responsibility of the exporter to submit import certificate requests to their certifier, and the responsibility of the importer to upload import certificate data into the Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial Environment as part of its standard filing process.

Who can access the Organic Integrity Database (OID)?

Organic Certificates will also be issued from OID under the new rule. Certificates issued using the data contained in the OID are accessible and available to be downloaded by members of the public, meaning anyone who plays a role at any point along the organic supply chain. Some specific information (such as brand names and product listings, for example) contained within ‘addenda’ of these certificates, however, will continue to be made available only to the certifying agents. 

What is an OFPP?

OFPP stands for Organic Fraud Prevention Plan, which is a new requirement under SOE that is expected to be part of an entity’s Organic System Plan (OSP).

What is an OSP?

OSP stands for Organic System Plan — something that every entity will be expected to create and implement if they are not yet certified. According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, creating an OSP is an important part of the process necessary to achieve eventual certification.

Where do I go to learn more about SOE?

SCS recommends starting with the full text of the final rule, the National Organic Program’s website, the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) SOE Fact Sheet, and the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) SOE Fact Sheet. Also helpful is the USDA’s side-by-side comparison of the original organic regulation language and the new SOE. 

My company needs more help navigating the new SOE. What can SCS do?

SCS is available to answer your questions related to SOE and can help you determine if your operation requires certification. Please contact SCS without delay if you are unsure about how you will be impacted by the new regulations and have not yet started the process to become certified. Learn more here.  


For more information, please contact:

Ned Halaby

Director of Sales – Product Claims