Port of StocktonPort of Stockton in California (Image source: AdobeStock)

After a long, painful wait, The Cornucopia Institute’s full-court press to compel USDA to address the influx of fraudulent organic imports is finally yielding action.

The department held a virtual Town Hall on July 8, unveiling a draft of the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule. Meant to address organic fraud, the proposed rule, which has not yet been published, gives the USDA stronger tools to ensure compliance and improves farm-to-market traceability.

Over the past several years, Cornucopia has tracked vessels, notified authorities of questionable incoming shipments, and pressed the USDA to act. The issue demanded urgency: US organic grain farmers have suffered losses exceeding $400 million to fraudulent grain shipments originating primarily from the Black Sea Region.

For more, read Cornucopia’s 2018 white paper, The Turkish Infiltration of the U.S. Organic Grain Market (PDF), and the 2019 report by Anne Ross, JD and John Bobbe, Potential, Failures, and Pitfalls of the National Organic Program in Getting Control of Organic Grain Fraud

US organic grain farmers have suffered in the face of prolonged USDA inaction, falling victim to the mounting crisis of cheap, fraudulent organic grain pouring into the country from overseas. Agronomists have estimated that one bulk cargo ship of grain may be equal to the annual production of 50 to 80 US certified organic farms.

Many producers have become disenchanted, telling Cornucopia that they are competing in what feels like a rigged market, and despondent about what they perceive as the passive attitude of government regulators.

Authentic organic dairy and egg producers have also felt the financial pain of fraudulent grain imports. Fraudulent grain bought in bulk is the cheapest of the cheap, allowing industrial organic livestock operations to offer their products at “bargain” prices. In the shadows of factory farms, ethical organic dairy and egg producers suffer a devastating competitive disadvantage.

This is especially true when mega-dairies and industrial-scale poultry operations violate other organic regulations by failing to comply with grazing requirements or provide their birds meaningful access to the outdoors.

Consumers pay the price as well. Fraudulent grain in the supply chain travels overseas to the American family’s fork. “If the feed isn’t authentically organic, neither is the livestock, and neither is the meat on the table,” Ross says. (Mother Jones references Cornucopia’s leading role in monitoring organic grain fraud in the March/April 2020 issue.)

The question now is, will the new rule address the many tentacles of import fraud? Will factory-style industrial farms that buy cheaper, imported grain be required to seek the truth about the origin of the grain?

The USDA says so. According to the agency, the new rule will require the certified operations to maintain records that document a product’s source and chain of custody across the supply chain.

The rule requires certifiers to conduct supply chain audits to verify the origin and chain of custody of high-risk products. Certifiers will also be required to conduct mass-balance audits during on-site inspections.

According to the USDA, the rule will also reduce the types of businesses exempt from organic certification, require electronic import certificates for all organic products entering the US, and standardize requirements for on-site inspection of organic operations.

Three years ago, Cornucopia formally petitioned the USDA to address supply chain traceability and the presence of uncertified entities in supply chains. We also called for enhanced chemical testing protocols at all US borders and ports.

After the proposed rule is officially published, Cornucopia will examine how and if the rule addresses these compliance and enforcement issues and submit our comments to the USDA. Cornucopia’s director of international policy, Anne Ross, JD, is already reviewing the draft rule and speaking with experts up and down the supply chain.

Cornucopia is committed to calling out bad actors, exposing the truth, and calling for the NOP to enforce the rules. We must speak up to protect authentic organic farmers and ensure that consumers get what they pay for

Stay tuned to Cornucopia’s news for more analysis when the proposed Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule is published for comment. Your voice matters.

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