The U.S. organic market has been growing steadily for the past several years. In fact, USDA reports that

[o]rganic farming has been one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture for over a decade. The U.S. had under a million acres of certified organic farmland when Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990. By the time USDA implemented national organic standards in 2002, certified organic farmland had doubled, and doubled again between 2002 and 2005. Organic livestock sectors have grown even faster.

Additionally, organic products have gained increasing interest from U.S. consumers within the last decade. The word “organic” itself has become one of the frequently heard buzz words in the food and agriculture industries. More than just a buzz word, though, “organic” is also a clearly defined labeling term under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP). Organic labeling indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

However, the ability of the NOP to protect the integrity of the organic label has recently been called into question. In March 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the NOP. In its report, the OIG concluded that NOP officials needed “to strengthen their oversight . . . of organic operations to ensure that organic products are consistently and uniformly meeting NOP standards.”

Today, Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) introduced bipartisan legislation in the House of Representatives that aims to accomplish that very objective. The main impetus behind the bill, aptly named the Organic Standards Protection Act, is to ensure that products bearing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal comply with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

As of this afternoon, the text of proposed legislation is not yet available online because it has not been assigned a bill number. However, a Washington D.C. correspondent for Food Safety News reported that the proposed Organic Standards Protection Act contains the following provisions:

– Grants USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process.

– Streamlines recordkeeping requirements by mandating that all  organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts.

– Grants USDA the power to impose civil penalties up to $10,000 for those who violate the USDA revocation of an organic certification.