Importing Organic Ingredients: Resources & Regulations

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Do you know your ingredient supply chain? How organic products are imported & new regulations for importers & brokers.

Changes to the organic regulations are coming. The National Organic Program (NOP) is in the process of passing new regulations into law in order to strengthen the integrity of organic supply chains. Specifically, the rule will add a new section–205.273–to the regulations on handling organic products. The proposed rule will come into effect in 2021 after the NOP reviews public comments.

The proposed rule requires that most importers & exporters, brokers & traders, and other parties that negotiate sales of organic goods acquire organic certification. Processors in the United States may need to take a more active role in ingredient acquisition by ensuring that their ingredients importers and brokers have been appropriately certified.

What do importers need to know about the new rule?

The proposed rule also mandates the use of NOP import certificates. The use of NOP import certificates was mandated in the Farm Bill of 2018, but initially, use of NOP import certificates was only required for countries with which the U.S. has organic trade equivalency arrangements. Organic imports from the European Union, Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom must be accompanied by an NOP Import Certificate, while imports from Canada are accompanied with an attestation statement that the products comply with the terms of the United States-Canada Organic Equivalency Arrangement (USCOEA). The new rule would expand the use of import certificates to all imported goods regardless of their country of origin.

The proposed rule would require that all imported products intended to be sold, represented, or labeled as organic in the United States be declared as organic to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and that each physical shipment passing through a U.S. Port of Entry be associated with an NOP Import Certificate.

The purpose of the NOP Import Certificate is to document the organic status and quantity of a specific physical shipment of imported organic products. The Import Certificate is associated with a specific shipment of imported organic product as it travels from a certified organic exporter in another country to a certified organic importer in the United States. The NOP Import Certificate is used to ensure a smooth, auditable business transaction by documenting that the products in the shipment are organic–increasing traceability and providing assurance that the product hasn’t been treated with fumigants or ionizing radiation at the port of entry.

The product’s exporter must complete an NOP Import Certificate Request Form. Next, the certifying agent of the exporter evaluates the request for an NOP Import Certificate, and upon verification of the organic shipment, approves & issues the NOP Import Certificate.

Next, using information from the NOP Import Certificate, the importer uses the CBP’s “ACE” system or Automated Commercial Environment to file information on the imported product. The ACE system is what the U.S. government uses to process imports and exports. Importers use ACE to submit the data required for imported products by APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services).

APHIS often requires that importers acquire permits before importing organic plant or animal products. One of the first steps involved in importing any product is to make sure that you’ve acquired the product-appropriate permits before importing any plant or animal products into the United States.

What do these changes mean for domestic organic processors who use imported ingredients and consumers who purchase organic products? According to the proposed rule, “The use of NOP import certificates will significantly increase the traceability of organic imported ingredients, which will have positive effects down the supply chain. Import certificates will provide trackable and auditable verification that a specific shipment of imported organic products complies with the USDA organic standards.” It will also support investigations is cases where products are exported and misrepresented as organic in the United States. The new rule will preserve consumer confidence in certified organic products by ensuring the integrity of the organic supply system.

A list of resources for further reading are below:


APHIS Fact Sheet–“Importing Food & Agricultural Products into The United States”:

APHIS Quick Reference Guide for Importers of Plant and Animal Products:

APHIS Permit Information:!ut/p/z1/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8ziffxNnA2dgg2AtKuTgaNrkLmvq6unkbuBoX44PgUGhsb6UaTpD_MwAyoICQ3xszB08rQ0Ik6_AQ7gaECq_RgKovAbH64fhc8KcAigKcD0IiFLCnJDQ0MjDDI9HRUVAcgC_JU!/?1dmy&urile=wcm%3apath%3a%2Faphis_content_library%2Fsa_resources%2Fresources-expired%2Faphis-permits-home

National Organic Program “Strengthening Organic Enforcement” Proposed Rule:

TRACES User Guide (for European Imports) :

OneCert FAQ, “Traceability Documentation in The Organic Supply Chain”:

Organic International Trade Partners Information & Documents:

Electronic NOP Import Certificate information: