by Pete Hardin
An organic grain producers group and a citizens’ advocacy organization have filed a complaint with USDA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting a deeper look at the integrity of imported organic grains.
The two organizations are OFARM and Food & Water Watch. Their complaint was stated in a September 1, 2016 letter to Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong. OIG is currently auditing the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) oversight of an organic equivalency agreement between the United States and the European Union (EU). As part of their letter to USDA/OIG, OFARM and Food & Water Watch requested that OIG:
“…examine the dramatic increase in the import of organic commodities, especially grains. A key area of concern for U.S. organic grain growers, and increasingly for consumers, is whether these increased imports present an opportunity for fraudulently labeled organic products to enter the United states, undermining the opportunity for U.S. producers to get a fair price in the market.”
Of particular concern to OFARM and Food & Water Watch are imports of organic grains from nations such as Turkey and Ukraine.
The letter to USDA’s OIG further noted:
“As the organic market grows rapidly around the world, resulting shortages in the supply of various commodities can create a tempting satiation for those who do not value the integrity of the organic standards and see a potential to ship products fraudulently labeled as organic. The potential for fraud is being acknowledged by some participants in the organic sector, with the establishment of an Anti-Fraud Initiative to ‘improve cross border communications among inspection and certification bodies, trade companies, label organizations and authorities to strengthen organic integrity.’ The fact that fraud is a serious enough concern to trigger the creation of this network, and international workshops with titles such as “Best practice examples to guarantee integrity of organic exports from Turkey,” should provide sufficient motivation to the NOP to dedicate more effort to this issue.
The OFARM/Food & Water Watch letter concludes with a request the USDA’s OIG examine:
“ * What procedures does NOP have to assess whether the EU’s processes for accreditation and certification are adequate to ensure the integrity of bulk shipments of commodities that are pooled from many farms?
“ * Does NOP have an adequate system to track bulk commodity shipments produced in other countries outside the EU that are certified by EU-based certifiers, or shipped through EU countries?
“ * What other data collection should NOP set up to have a better understanding of source of imports, back to the certifier and farm level?”