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Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE)—Top Six Questions About Uncertified Operations and Imports

by Sarah Reed |

The Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Final Rule, published in January 2023, reached its implementation date on March 19, 2024. The rule introduced significant updates and changes to the USDA organic regulations. SOE requires that many operations that were previously exempt from certification now get certified, including storage locations, brokers, private label brand owners, importers, and exporters. National Organic Program (NOP) Import Certificates are required for all organic shipments to the United States. Nonretail container labeling requirements were updated, and fraud prevention plans are now required. Additionally, standardized organic certificates are now available in USDA’s Organic Integrity Database.

In this article, we address some frequently asked questions about what happens now if businesses missed the March 19 implementation deadline.

Q1: My supplier is no longer exempt, but they are not yet certified. Can I continue to purchase from them?
  • If the supplier has applied for certification, provide written verification from their certifier. You can continue to source from the supplier while they work through the certification process, provided you have organic control systems in place and have audit trail records for each shipment tracing the products back to the last certified handler. Once the supplier achieves certification, provide their certificate to us.
  • If the supplier is required to be certified and has not yet applied for certification, you will need to stop sourcing from them.
  • If it is unclear whether a supplier is exempt, we will seek guidance from the USDA National Organic Program.
  • If you would like to source from a new supplier and that operation is required to be certified, we will not approve the supplier until they achieve certification.


Q2: My buyer isn’t certified, but I think they need to be. Do I need to do anything?

No. Certified operations are only responsible for verifying the certification status of those they buy from, not who they sell to. CCOF may ask you for information about your buyer to determine if they are exempt, but their status will not impact your certification. However, there could be supply chain impacts, so we encourage you to inform your buyers about SOE.


Q3: I’ve applied for CCOF certification, but I am not yet certified. Can I keep selling?

If you were exempt or excluded before March 19, 2024, and you were already selling to CCOF-certified operations, you can continue selling to those operations after March 19, 2024, as you continue the certification process with CCOF. You will need to provide full audit trail traceback documents to your buyer; documents must link back to and include a document from the last certified handler for each shipment. CCOF will not approve you as a supplier for any new buyers until you are certified.

If you are selling to operations certified by other certifiers (not CCOF), your buyers should check in with their certifiers to determine if they are allowed to accept products from you after March 19, 2024. If you need us to provide confirmation to another certifier that we have received your application, we are happy to do that—email


Q4. What is an NOP Import Certificate and how do I request one?

An NOP Import Certificate is a transaction certificate that contains detailed information about the quantity and origin of organic products being imported into the United States. An example can be found at the USDA website. This document is now required for all organic shipments to the United States.

If you are an importer, you will need to request this document from the exporter. Only the certifier of the exporter or final handler in the export country can issue this document. When filing an electronic NOP Import Certificate in ACE, select the OR2 option when prompted. You only need to input the 21-character electronic import certificate number; this will be listed in the upper right corner of the NOP Import Certificate. You do not need to upload the PDF, and the document does not need to physically accompany the shipment. If there are multiple organic commodities in the shipment, you will enter the certificate number for each commodity.

If you are a CCOF-certified operation exporting to the Unites States, complete the request packet and send to Requests are reviewed in 2–5 business days, and the cost is $75 per certificate. When completing the request packet, please note that the recipient should be the importer of record, not the ultimate consignee. The complete 10-digit HTS code is required; work with your U.S. importer customs broker and visit


Q5: I am an importer and have applied for CCOF certification but I am not yet certified. Can I keep importing?

Shipments will be allowed to clear customs and will not be rejected. You must declare the shipment as organic and ensure that it has not been fumigated or treated during the border crossing, as required by 205.273. Your exporter should request an NOP Import Certificate from their certifier.

It is possible to issue an NOP Import Certificate linked to your operation prior to granting certification. The NOP Import Certificate area of the Organic Integrity Database has an option to issue a certificate to an uncertified importer and does not require an NOP identification number for your operation. The exporter’s certifier will select the “uncertified importer” option and will enter the name, email, and phone number for a contact at your company. The NOP recently clarified that it is not the responsibility of the exporter’s certifier to confirm that the U.S. importer is certified. That is the NOP’s responsibility, and they will follow up with uncertified importers after March 19.

USDA National Organic Program has stated that SOE is a process, not an event. Products that are imported by an uncertified importer or that are not associated with valid NOP Import Certificate data will be flagged for further investigation. In the case of an investigation, your application status will be considered among other factors.

With that said, your operation should work through the certification process as quickly as possible. Be sure to respond to all requests for information from CCOF quickly and completely. We cannot grant certification when any information is missing.

Refer to the FAQ from NOP for additional information about completing import certificates.


Q6: How do I comply with … ? 

When you are unclear on how to proceed, consider the “why” behind the SOE rule, as outlined in the preamble. Propose a “how” that addresses the “why.”


For Example: How do I label the truck transporting my unpackaged product when I don’t control the truck? Why? To deter fraud and prevent mistakes, labeling of nonretail containers is required to protect organic integrity through the supply chain and clarify which products are organic. How? Propose a feasible solution for your specific operational needs and address the “why.” Maybe magnetic signs are possible for your operation to implement. Maybe you have a different proposed solution that will protect organic integrity.

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