PROTECTING THE INTEGRITY
The National Organic Program’s
By Soo Kim, including interviews with NOP Deputy Administrator Miles McEvoy
When Kathleen Merrigan, one of the original pioneers of the Organic Food Production Act, was appointed as the deputy secretary of the USDA in the Fall of 2009, she declared this the “age of enforcement” for organic agriculture.
“It’s time to show the world that our standards have teeth. If people are not adhering to the standards,
they’re going to be kicked out of the program,” Merrigan said in an interview with Organic Processing last
year. In her address before Congress in September, she continued, “The Secretary and I have little sympa-
thy for the argument that someone didn’t know the rules. We have national standards that are tough, and
we are increasing oversight and enforcement to improve the integrity of the National Organic Program.”
The new leadership at the NOP has indeed taken seriously its role in regulating, monitoring and enforc-
ing the organic market in the United States. In the past year alone it launched additional assessments of
certifying agencies around the world, stripped away the accreditation of certifiers that failed to meet the
bar, and issued 10 civil penalties to operations for willfully violating the organic standards. And the NOP’s
strategic plan includes looking into several new measures—ranging from pesticide residue testing to
unannounced inspections—to ensure the rules are being followed.
But regulating the market is only as effective as the degree to which industry understands the regulations and what they require of them. To do this, the NOP has taken many steps to make the organic
standards readily available and unambiguous to organic producers, processors and certifiers.
Thus the era of enforcement merges into another: the era of clarification.
The year 2010 included a number of new initiatives to enhance communication among the NOP,
accredited certifying agents and organic operations. The current administration’s restructuring of the
NOP within USDA’s organizational scheme has elevated the program to function as its own unit
under the Agricultural Marketing Service. In conjunction, it received an increase in Congressional
funds, bringing the budget from $3.89 million in 2009 to nearly $7 million in 2010. Moreover, President Obama’s 2011 proposed budget includes a $3 million increase for the program which would