Is That Product Really Organic?

Demand for organic foods in on the rise, but are all the emerging organic products actually certified as such? This might not be the case, according to a report in The Washington Post.

The report tracked three shipments of organic corn and soybeans that came from Turkey, and contends that they were traditionally produced and priced as ordinary soybeans. However, by the time one 36 million-lb. shipment of soybeans reached port in Stockton, CA, they had been labeled organic, according to receipts, invoices and shipping records. They even had the “USDA Organic” designation, boosting their value by about $4 million.

From the report:

“The three shipments, each involving millions of pounds of ‘organic’ corn or soybeans, were large enough to constitute a meaningful proportion of the U.S. supply of those commodities. All three were presented as organic, despite evidence to the contrary. And all three hailed from Turkey, now one of the largest exporters of organic products to the United States, according to Foreign Agricultural Service statistics.”

Global Natural, the broker for the soybeans, explained that it may have been provided with false certification documents regarding some grain imports from Eastern Europe. It contended about 21 million-lbs. had already been distributed to customers, mostly as feed for the organic milk, chicken, eggs and meat industries. USDA noted its systems are robust and designed to guard against fraud, but is investigating the matter.

Critics argue that the system is vulnerable to multiple enforcement weaknesses. Farmers hire their inspection companies, inspections are pre-announced, and testing for pesticides is the exception rather than the rule. The vulnerabilities are magnified with imported products, especially considering that the amount of imported organic corn and soybeans has more than tripled in recent years. Nearly half of organic corn, soybeans and coffee is imported by the U.S.

In response to the report, the Cornucopia Institute wrote a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue calling for new leadership at USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). The organic industry watchdog wants to correct what it calls “a chronic pattern of gross incompetence and corruption” at the NOP. The letter to Perdue cites the Washington Post article that documented shipments of fraudulent organic grains entering the U.S. from China and Eastern Europe.