Organic fraud prompts action on import verification

In response to the discovery of fraudulent imports of soybeans from Turkey that violated federal organic regulations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program (NOP) in June revoked the organic certification of Beyaz Agro—a major Turkish grain exporter. The soybeans in question had been fumigated with aluminum phosphide—a prohibited substance under USDA’s National Organic Program—prior to arrival in the United Sates, yet were sold here as organic.

The Organic Trade Association is encouraged by the action taken by NOP, and commended USDA for committing to improving the timely and detailed communication on critical compliance issues to the trade. Meanwhile, the discovery of verified import fraud has prompted a call for changes to improve import verification of organic products going forward.

Proactively working on several fronts to help prevent future incident of fraudulent imports, the Organic Trade Association agrees that fraud cannot be tolerated in the organic system, inside or outside of the United States. Anytime there is fraud anywhere in the organic system, it takes value out of the organic chain, and hurts organic farmers wherever they farm. The oversight of foreign organic suppliers and the enforcement of organic standards must be rigorous and robust. The integrity of the organic certification process and the commitment to compliance and enforcement are the lifeblood of the organic industry, and ensure a level playing field for U.S. organic farmers. Moreover, the organic industry supports strong action to uphold that integrity.

Anti-fraud task force

An immediate action taken by the Organic Trade Association has been to convene a member task force. The mandate for its Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force is to develop a best practices guide to use in managing and verifying global organic supply chain integrity to help brands and traders manage and mitigate the risk and occurrence of organic fraud.

The best practices guide will include a vulnerability assessment, mitigation measures, and an alert and reporting system.

A more risk-focused system

Meanwhile, it is critical that when unusual trends or anomalies in trade of organic goods are spotted, the National Organic Program will alert industry to advise heightened vigilance. The Organic Trade Association has identified areas where this process could be improved, and is committed to communications with NOP to encourage a more risk-focused approach.

It is also critical that USDA is committed to providing timely and detailed communication on critical compliance issues to the trade, such as suspension or revocation of certificates. The Organic Trade Association was pleased to see the notice that NOP released on June 13 updating its enforcement action posting system. Specifically, NOP is changing how it posts enforcement actions. The new approach expands the types of notices it posts and makes postings more frequent.

The Organic Trade Association will continue to monitor and encourage timely and detailed communication from NOP to the trade on notifications of potential fraud as well as enforcement actions.

More robust certification systems

The Organic Trade Association applauds the steps taken by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency and advocacy group. On May 15, CCOF notified handlers, importers and other entities of new requirements to obtain approval for imported grain shipments, including demonstrating full traceability back to growers and that prohibited materials were not used at any point along the supply chain.

Oregon Tilth, a USDA-accredited certification agency base in Corvallis, OR, is aiming to establish a similar policy for certain at-risk commodities as well. The Organic Trade Association supports the actions being taken by the accredited certifying agencies to shore up confidence in imported organic grains, and encourages other certifiers and companies to do the same.

Trade Oversight

While all domestic and imported organic products must meet USDA’s strict standards, a greater emphasis on authority and capacity to conduct investigations will keep organic markets strong. Additionally, investments in technology and access to data to improve tracking of international organic trade will provide the necessary information to ensure a transparent and healthy marketplace. In summary, the Organic Trade Association is asking for the following in its 2018 Farm Bill priorities:

 Authorize funding for NOP to keep pace with organic industry growth

 Fund $5 million to upgrade international oversight systems and trade tracking to ensure access to full traceability back to the farm

 Limit the application of operations excluded from certification (ports, importers, brokers, on-line auctions)

 Require USDA to report to Congress on investigations and actions taken.

Click here for more details on the Organic Trade Association’s priorities for the next farm bill. //