June 20/Washington/Federal Register-- A bill that would put some teeth into federal organic food law was introduced by a bipartisan pair of representatives from opposite sides of the country.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY), introduced the legislative to ensure that products carrying the USDA's organic seal comply with the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act.

Their newly proposed Organic Standards Protection Act contains the following provisions:
- Grants USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process.
- Streamlines recordkeeping requirements by mandating that all organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts.
- Grants USDA the power to impose civil penalties up to $10,000 for those who violate the USDA revocation of an organic certification.

The California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association, and the National Organic Coalition support the legislation.

According to a report by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5% growth. The organic food industry also generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010. 

"Failing to weed out imposter products puts our organic industries at a competitive disadvantage and could potentially damage the brand of organic products," said Capps.

"This bill takes commonsense steps to make sure USDA has the tools necessary to protect the integrity of the organic seal and safeguard this booming industry from unscrupulous producers," Hanna said.

In a statement, the Organic Trade Association said its 6,500 members support the measure because it will help maintain trust with consumers.

According to a recent USDA Office of Inspector General report, the absence of investigative authorities has hampered the National Organic Program's ability to protect the integrity of the organic label. 

Currently, the National Organic Program does not have the authority to stop the representation, labeling or sale of organic products when they have been treated with prohibited substances or when conventional products are being sold as organic. 

Embargo and stop-sale authority would provide the NOP with additional tools to protect the integrity of organic food products.

The Organic Standards Protection Act would provide the USDA with the authority to stop sale of unlawfully represented products, and would enhance the effectiveness of investigations while providing for appeal of the Secretary's actions. The bill would also provide penalties for refusal to obey a conclusive judgment.

 From the June 20, 2012, Prepared Foods Daily News