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USDA Moves to Stop Organic Food Fraud, Finally

USDA Moves to Stop Organic Food Fraud, Finally

The USDA has finally finished a long-awaited rule that will help clean up fraud in the organic food sector.

This rule, put together by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is urgently needed given widespread fraud that has been reported in the organics industry. The level of deception has reached epidemic proportions: a USDA study found that 40% of all organic food sold in the US tested positive for prohibited pesticides. The rule takes a number of positive steps that, if properly implemented, will help restore some consumer confidence in the organics industry.

ANH brought attention to this issue in 2020 when the proposed rule was initially published. We also submitted comments to the official docket calling on certain provisions to be strengthened and expanded. Some of these suggestions were included in the final rule, such as expanding requirements for non-retail containers holding organic products to be properly labeled.

This is the largest rulemaking since the National Organic Program (NOP) went into effect. The rule is almost 300 pages long and includes many changes to how the organic supply chain operates. One of the key provisions is reducing the entities that operate in the organic supply chain without organic certification. Currently, there are many middlemen—brokers, handlers, etc.—that do not need to be certified, which has led to several instances of fraud totaling millions of dollars.

For example, organic grains are often stored in grain elevators, which do not need to be certified organic. Because grain elevators don’t need to be certified, the NOP cannot require organic certifiers to investigate onsite activities of these elevators. Investigations have found criminals using loopholes to funnel nonorganic feedstuffs through uncertified grain elevators. Requiring certification would increase oversight and allow NOP to monitor this activity to prevent fraud.

The rule also requires organic import certificates from all countries. Incredibly, current regulations only require organic import certificates from the European Union, Switzerland, Japan, and South Korea—countries the NOP has determined use an equivalent system of organic certification. The final rule would require that any organic agricultural product imported to the United States be associated with a valid NOP Import Certificate or equivalent data source. This will provide trackable and auditable verification that a specific shipment complies with USDA organic regulations.

As mentioned above, changes to USDA’s approach to ensuring the integrity of the organic seal are desperately needed. The level of fraud that goes on is an outrage, and for a long time the USDA showed no signs of deviating from business as usual. It took action from industry stakeholders and angry consumers to spur the agency to action.

We need the USDA to swiftly and properly implement this rule to reduce organic fraud and to protect organic farmers trying to do the right thing as well as consumers who pay a premium to buy what they believe to be clean food. The integrity of the organic label is already under assault due to the watering down of organic standards by, for example, allowing hydroponically grown produce to be labeled organic. We cannot allow outright fraud to continue.

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10 thoughts on “USDA Moves to Stop Organic Food Fraud, Finally

  • Michael

    There is no organic fraud where I live in Nebraska. There is no organic food for sale. Luckily I can grow my own and I grow lots.

  • Steve

    This is great if they actually follow through with the crack down on fraud in organic imports.
    One of the biggest frauds is right here in the USA, allowing hydroponic to be certified as organic is a blatant fraud being perpetuated on buyers of organic produce.
    Take blueberries for example, these faux organic operations laser level the ground, lay plastic and permanently suffocate the soil, then in some cases spray round up , then add pots filled with coconut coir and blueberry plants in the get an IV drip of nutrients which may or may not be organic.
    The plants get root bound and are totally dependent on IV drip of nutrients. Not to mention the massive waste of plastic that goes in landfills.
    Meanwhile Real organic blueberry growers growing in healthy biological rich soil get driven out of business.
    The crack down on fraud needs to start on the USDA’s front door step, they are the ones who allowed the hydro lobby with millions of dollars implement a fraud on consumers.
    Even law suits can’t stop this fraud.
    The US is the only country in the world that allows hydroponic crops to be sold, as organic.
    No hydroponic operation will mimic the amazing complex of minerals nutrients and so forth that a living vibrant soils does.
    I think the only way this can be stopped is by consumers fling a lawsuit on a massive scale,to stop the fraud.
    Wake up America!

  • Tiffany

    Thank you for standing up for us organic consumers! I was just telling my fiance today that you cannot trust what is truly organic! And the cost is ridiculous! It should be cheaper than food with added chemicals because there is no coat for these harmful chemicals if it is supposedly organic! Am I right??!!

  • Shields Charles

    This Organic regulation has been needed and wanted for quite some time..Glad its finally arriving.
    The consumer needs to b able to trust the labeling, health wise and financially, as Organic is at a premium price.
    Again, thanks for taking action.

  • JoAnn

    This is laughable.. since it is the US growers of fresh produce and grains that are cheating the most…??‍♀️

  • Pam E

    Consumers should GET what they pay for!
    The USDA should have been doing its job LONG AGO & making sure a product is what it’s label says that it is!!! Wanting to keep ones family from eating pesticides should be possible. If a label says it is ORGANIC, it should be so. The consumer PAYS a Premium to get ORGANIC Products, companies shouldn’t be able to Charge them for a product & NOT deliver it.
    They should be held accountable for FRAUD if they engage in deceptive labeling. Please USDA Get to work on this issue as quickly as possible. Thank you, in advance.

  • Because I choose to eat clean food I generally grow my own as much as possible.
    But as with any other project, sometimes I have to rely on others (example I can’t grow warm weather produce in my cold weather state).

    So yes, I must rely on the help from others to notify me if others are trying to commit fraud when trying to sell me my “clean produce”. Currently the only notification I have is that organic label. When I see it, I expect there to be someone on the other end which has been inspected repeatedly to insure I am purchasing what that label tells me I am purchasing… a clean food product.

  • George Oleyer

    What is the rule’s reference title and number (provide a link please)? Has it been enacted and if so when? Are you going to mount an email communication to fortify implementation?

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