WASHINGTON – New procedures intended to increase the effectiveness of enforcing national organic standards were issued Sept. 1 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Operating procedures are now in effect for the National Organic Program (N.O.P.) to ensure all complaints of alleged violations and civil penalties are consistently handled, A.M.S. relays.

Complaints of alleged standards violations were previously referred to accredited certifying agents for investigation and enforcement. With the implementation of new procedures, N.O.P. will collaborate with accredited certifying agents in investigating cases while handling all enforcement actions.

“The changes we are making will ensure that all parties are given due process while increasing the effectiveness of enforcing organic standards,” said Miles McEvoy, N.O.P. deputy administrator. “At the same time, we want to take steps so that those who are abiding by the regulations and rightfully marketing their foods as organic are not put at a disadvantage by those falsely labeling their products. It allows us to perform our job of assuring consumers they can trust the U.S.D.A. organic label.”

The new complaint-handling procedures were put into effect as part of a continued effort by the N.O.P. to increase enforcement actions and ensure greater compliance of the organic regulations. Since Jan. 2010, the N.O.P. has closed 87 complaints and issued three civil penalties. The N.O.P. accredits about 100 certifying agents around the world to evaluate agricultural production and handling operations and determine their compliance with the national organic standards.

U.S.D.A. said it is its policy to investigate all complaints that allege violations of rules and regulations, whether submitted by independent claimants, filed by an accredited certifying agent, or initiated by the N.O.P. itself. Any person may file a complaint if he or she believes a violation has occurred.