The National Organic Program (NOP) recently released the 2011 edition of the NOP Program Handbook. This manual includes instructions and guidance for certifiers and organic operations regarding implementation of the NOP. The handbook is an important resource for certifiers and certified operations.
Information Disclosure Instructions
The current manual includes instructions for disclosure of information concerning operations certified under the NOP. These important instructions clarify that formal noncompliance and adverse action (proposed suspension or revocation) notices are subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This means that all notices that CCOF copies to the USDA NOP may be made public via FOIA processes. The NOP also recommends that certifiers implement full disclosure regarding these notices, except for confidential business information.
We are reviewing options regarding implementation of this guidance. CCOF was founded on and holds among its values the concept of transparency; therefore we recognize the importance of these instructions and believe that there is inherent value in transparency which will protect the organic marketplace and strengthen organic integrity. However, we are concerned about our administrative capacity and legal resources to redact letters and thoroughly protect clients' confidential business information. CCOF is considering a process where formal requests for information regarding noncompliance and adverse action may be made to CCOF. The requestor would likely have to pay a small fee to cover CCOF costs and to discourage frivolous requests. CCOF would then disclose the presence of any noncompliances or adverse action as well as the NOP section numbers cited to both the requestor and the subject client at the same time. Parties wishing to review the actual letters would be required to file a FOIA request at the federal level. We believe that this process respects the intent of the NOP's instructions without increasing costs, risking breaches of confidentiality, or exceeding CCOF's current organizational capacity.