Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The government shutdown is stalling plans to block fraudulent imports of organic produce into the United States.
The 2018 farm bill instructed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop and implement regulations to reduce the amount of fake organic food being imported. The decision came after The Washington Post reported that millions of pounds of imported grains were being marked and sold as organic last year -- though they appeared to not be organic.
Part of the reason this was able to happen is the laws regulating organic imports were written in 2000 -- before organics had blossomed into a global market, said Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association. Those laws do not allow for the utilization of the latest technology for tracking imports, nor do they give the USDA the right to directly oversee other countries' third-party organic certifiers.
The new USDA rules will likely include those measures, and others, Batcha said.
Those rules are supposed to be in place by the end of 2019 -- but a prolonged government shutdown would make that unlikely.
"It is a massive piece of work," Batcha said. "Twelve months is a short period of time to create rules like that. If the government is shut down for six weeks, that's 10 percent less time to do it."
The shutdown reached its 27th day Thursday, making it the longest government shutdown in history.
"Organic producers aren't so much worried about what's happening today as what is coming," Batcha said. "Because there's no sign of an end."
Fortunately, current organic inspections are done by third-party organizations, not the federal government, Batcha said. That means those inspections continue unfettered.
However, complaints about violations are investigated by the USDA's National Organic Program. NOP will not investigate any new complaint until regular government operations resume. The agency received 386 complaints in 2018.
"A prolonged shutdown will create a backlog," Batcha said.