Government Shutdown Impacts National Organic Program at the USDA
The partial government shutdown is now moving into its third week and it’s one of the longest government shutdowns in U.S. history. Employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are furloughed, with significant impacts on the USDA National Organic Program (NOP), which is responsible for enforcing the organic regulations, facilitating the work of the National Organic Standards Board, and overseeing certifying agents. While enforcement activities by certifying agents will continue, enforcement activities conducted by the NOP, including investigations, suspensions of certifiers and operators, and issuance of penalties for violations, cannot be performed until the USDA is reopened.
For more information about how the NOP is impacted, see the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service guidance regarding the status during a shutdown.
The Farm Service Agency, which now operates the organic certification cost-share program alongside state agencies, is also closed due to the shutdown.
The shutdown will likely slow down implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law on December 20. If the shutdown continues over the long-term, it could impact the annual NOP training for certifying agents at the end of January and the Seattle National Organic Standards Board meeting in April.
Two public nutrition programs administered by the USDA, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, could run out of money if the government shutdown continues through February and beyond. Letting these programs lapse would be unprecedented and would affect tens of millions of Americans.
The House of Representatives is expected to pass several standalone spending bills this week to reopen large parts of the government, including the Agriculture Department. The Agriculture Appropriations bill under consideration by the House would achieve big wins on behalf of organic by increasing funding for the NOP and for organic and sustainable agriculture research.
This bill, however, is unlikely to move forward at this time in the Republican-controlled Senate because Senate GOP leaders have indicated that they will only bring forward legislation that has support from President Trump. President Trump wants $5.6 billion for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which is not included in the House legislation. “This shutdown could end tomorrow or it also could go on for a long time,” he said this past Sunday.