USDA’s organic enforcement efforts find fraudulent certificates
By Dan Flynn, Food Safety News by Marler Clark
December 5, 2017
The USDA’s National Organic Program completed more complaint reviews and investigations that it received in 2017. It finished work on 462 reviews and investigations while receiving 379 incoming complaints during the fiscal year 2017 ending last Sept. 30.
Under the jurisdiction of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, the organic program recently updated reports on enforcement activities and fraudulent organic certificates for 2017. It’s been a year of business growth for organic growers and producers.
Organic sales topped $68.8 billion on the steady growth of about 5 percent a year. More than eight out of ten households made organic purchases. And 4.1 million acres out of 915 million acres of U.S. farmland was reportedly dedicated organic production on about 15,000 farms.
However, the National Organic Program’s (NOP) weak controls over organic imports, again came under scrutiny from USDA’s Office of Inspector General, putting the integrity of the USDA organic label at risk. The OIG found produce shipments of all kinds are fumigated at the border with pesticides to prevent pests from entering the U.S. And, a weak import certificate system imposed by NOP in 2012 has not prevented organics for getting the same treatment.
NOP’s most substantial enforcement action in 2017 came against a Texas corn chip manufacturer. Irving-based Xochiti, a formerly certified organic company, initially accepted a two-year suspension and was ordered to pay a $1.8 million civil penalty under a Consent Decision and Order by a USDA administrative law judge.
Xochiti is allowed to seek reinstatement to the organic program. The NOP reduced the civil penalty to about a fourth of the $!.8 million, leaving Xochiti to pay $475,000. Xochiti cannot sell organic products while on suspension.
Other civil penalties imposed by the NOP during 2017 totaled only $187,500.
USDA’s organic program also reports businesses using fraudulent organic certificates. It is currently highlighting seven organic companies it claims are using fraudulent organic documents including: