Legislation seeks to crack down on ‘fake organics,’ address shortfalls in National Organic Program

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Legislation seeks to crack down on 'fake organics'

Related tags National organic program Organic food

Proposed legislation seeks to beef-up oversight and enforcement of organic standards after government investigators discovered some US ports fumigated imported product but did not ensure it was not then sold or labeled as organic.

The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act​, introduced by Reps. John Faso, R-NY, and Lujan Grisham, D-NM, aims to “crack down on … fake organics”​ from overseas that deceive consumers and artificially drive down the price of real organics, according to the congressman.

He explains in a statement that this “commonsense legislation”​ would put “American consumers and farmers first”​ by authorizing between $15 million to $24 million annually from 2018 to 2023 to the National Organic Program to boost enforcement and compliance efforts in the US and abroad.

The legislation also allocates an additional $5 million to modernize the international trade tracking and data collection systems of the NOP without unduly hindering trade to ensure full traceability of imported products.

NOP also would be empowered to oversee and approve certifying agencies in other countries and would require annual authorization for each agent that intends to operate in any foreign country, according to the legislation.

In addition to other provisions, if the bill becomes law, currently uncertified entities, including ports, brokers, importers and online auctions would need to become organic certified to ensure that products that pass through them meet the rigorous standard or lose their organic labeling.

Addressing challenges identified by OIG

This last provision speaks most directly to loopholes in the current law that allowed products tainted in the supply chain to be sold still as organic, as uncovered in a report released last month from the Office of Inspector General​.

OIG found that USDA was unable to “provide reasonable assurance that NOP required documents were reviewed at US ports of entry to verify that important agricultural products labeled as organic were from certified organic foreign farms and businesses.”

It also found that agricultural products sometimes are fumigated at US ports to prevent pests from entering the US, but that AMS had not established a way to identify, track and ensure treated organic products were not sold, labeled or represented as organic.

Industry lauds bill

Many in the organic industry lauded the introduction of the bill as a way to directly address these and other shortcomings.

“This bill will improve trade oversight in our global market by improving the funds to give USDA and certifiers the tools to better respond to threats to the integrity of organic,”​ George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, said in a statement. He added, “USDA organic integrity and the seal are the backbone of the organic market. Organic Valley takes consumer trust seriously and we need a strong National Organic Program. We are pleased to see bipartisan support for this measure.”

Organic Trade Association Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha echoed this sentiment, noting, “We’re operating in a growing global market. It is essential that we modernize and get up to speed to prevent organic fraud and to ensure that every stakeholder in the organic chain is playing by the rules. This bill takes important steps toward making that happen.”

The key elements of this bill also should be reflected in the next farm bill, argues Ken Dallmier, president and COO for Clarkson Grain. Specifically, he noted, “the next farm bill must include resource support for the USDA’s National Organic Program to keep pace with growth in the industry, set uniform standards and carry out compliance and enforcement actions along the entire supply chain – domestically and internationally.”

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