Handling SOE: 6 Priorities for Handling Operations Implementing the New Rule

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Rule published by the USDA implementation period ends March 20, 2024. This means operations have until March 19, 2024, to become compliant with the rule. Handling operations, including brokers, traders, importers, distributors, and manufacturers, are among those who will be most affected by this new rule. In this post, we will cover the biggest changes brought about by the SOE rule and provide you with OneCert’s top 6 priorities for handling operations that are working to implement the SOE rule.

  1. Exemptions – The new rule narrows the allowed exemptions and requires the certification of more businesses. If you are unsure if this impacts your business or others in your supply chain, you will want to read §205.101 very carefully.
  2. Imports – Importers are now required to be certified. Additionally, SOE requires NOP Import Certificates for all imports starting March 20, 2024. If you are importing, you will need to be certified and your suppliers are prepared to provide you with these documents. If you are not yet certified, you can start the process here.
  3. Fraud Prevention – The SOE rule creates authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices, and fraud prevention procedures. Each OSP is now required to include a description of the practices and procedures to verify suppliers in the supply chain and the organic status of agricultural products received, and to prevent organic fraud, as appropriate to the certified operation’s activities, scope, and complexity. During your next Annual Update, be prepared to answer a number of questions about your Fraud Prevention methods, including how you monitor for and report fraud to the NOP.
  4. Organic Identification on Non-retail Containers – The SOE rule requires require non-retail containers used to ship or store certified organic products to display the organic designation and the production lot number or other unique identifier that links the container to the audit trail documentation. Nonretail containers include storage bins and bulk transport vehicles (trailers, tanks, railcars, etc.). The NOP is encouraging operators to get creative and develop solutions that fit their unique operations. For example, producers may consider nonpermanent signage for transport units, such as magnets, temporary markings, tape, etc. Keep in mind that the label must include the required information and needs to remain affixed to the unit, so it is legible to farm staff, inspectors, and upon arrival at the next facility to take ownership.
  5. More Rigorous On-Site Inspections – The new rule includes authority for more thorough inspections, requirements for Trace-back and Mass Balance Audits, and Unannounced Inspections.
  6. Standardized Certificates – With SOE, all certifiers will be moving to a uniform Organic Scope Certificate, that is issued through the Organic Integrity Database. Keep in mind that certification bodies may still issue their own addenda for more detailed product lists, or for private label arrangements. These addenda may need to be provided along with the organic certificate when adding new suppliers.

Read the full text, learn more about the SOE rulemaking process, and locate SOE training provided by the USDA here. Contact OneCert to request a printed copy of the final rule, or if you have any questions.