A woman shops at a Whole Foods grocery store in the Manhattan borough of New York City,

The Agriculture Department has announced new guidelines for products labeled “organic,” a term that has been increasingly abused as shoppers have sought healthier, environmentally friendly food.

The USDA has a strict definition of “certified organic,” allowing the label to be used only for products that meet certain standards for soil quality, animal-raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. The updates issued by the agency last Thursday aim to close loopholes that allowed ingredients that don’t meet the criteria to infiltrate the supply chain.

Tom Chapman, chief executive of the Organic Trade Association, said the updates represent “the single largest revision to the organic standards since they were published in 1990.” They should go a long way toward boosting confidence in the “organic” label, Chapman said, noting that the move “raises the bar to prevent bad actors at any point in the supply chain.”

Chapman’s business association, which represents nearly 10,000 growers in the United States, has been pushing for stricter guidelines for years, motivated in part by a series of stories in The Washington Post in 2017 revealing that fraudulent “organic” foods were a widespread problem in the food industry.

But problems with organic fraud have persisted. This month, the Justice Department announced indictments of individuals alleged to have masterminded a multimillion-dollar scheme to export nonorganic soybeans from Eastern Europe to be sold into the United States as certified organic. They were able to charge 50 percent more for “organic” grain than conventional, the department said.


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