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Bill Proposes Tougher Enforcement for Organic Label

A bill that would put some teeth into federal organic food law was introduced Tuesday by a bipartisan pair of representatives from opposite sides of the country.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY), introduced the legislative to ensure that products carrying the USDA’s organic seal comply with the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act.

Their newly proposed Organic Standards Protection Act contains the following provisions:

- Grants USDA the authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled and sold as certified organic while protecting the rights of producers and handlers during the appeals process.

- Streamlines recordkeeping requirements by mandating that all  organic producers and certifiers to maintain and provide records to the USDA to improve its investigative process and enforcement efforts.

- Grants USDA the power to impose civil penalties up to $10,000 for those who violate the USDA revocation of an organic certification.

The California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association, and the National Organic Coalition support the legislation.

According to a report by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the U.S. organic market in 2011 surpassed $31 billion for the first time, representing 9.5 percent growth. The organic food industry also generated more than 500,000 American jobs in 2010.

“Failing to weed out imposter products puts our organic industries at a competitive disadvantage and could potentially damage the brand of organic products,” said Capps.

“This bill takes commonsense steps to make sure USDA has the tools necessary to protect the integrity of the organic seal and safeguard this booming industry from unscrupulous producers,” Hanna said.

In a statement, the Organic Trade Association said its 6,500 members support the measure because it will help maintain trust with consumers.

According to a recent USDA Office of Inspector General report, the absence of investigative authorities has hampered the National Organic Program’s ability to protect the integrity of the organic label.

Currently, the National Organic Program does not have the authority to stop the representation, labeling or sale of organic products when they have been treated with prohibited substances or when conventional products are being sold as organic.

Embargo and stop-sale authority would provide the NOP with additional tools to protect the integrity of organic food products.

The Organic Standards Protection Act would provide the USDA with the authority to stop sale of unlawfully represented products, and would enhance the effectiveness of investigations while providing for appeal of the Secretary’s actions. The bill would also provide penalties for refusal to obey a conclusive judgment.

© Food Safety News
  • Ted

    This entire organic certification process is a pathetic farce. The industry is entirely self-policed by a crony system whereby organic producers are supervised by their close friends who double as organic small farm lobbyists and marketers — all pulling together to fleece the public with untrue claims and breathtaking overpricing. A nice little racket. Little wonder practically no one is ever caught and prosecuted for cheating…they’re all endorsing it!
    If we cannot do away with the squishy official USDA designation “organic” the very least we can do is install a certification and inspection system that verifies, without doubt, these goofy rules are being followed to the very letter — no corner cutting, no half-measures, no cheating and no kissin’ cousins or good ‘ol boys signing off to help their buddies. Clean up the conflicts of interest by putting real cops on the beat to enforce and impose penalties stiff enough to generate some attention — a $10,000 fine is nothing to these operators…run them through a mandatory IRS audit to straighten up their book keeping and force them to pay at least some of the tax on all those undeclared cash transactions at farmers markets and CSA rackets.
    Organic has been a cleverly acted free-for-all for much too long. Clean it up or shut it down. Too many naive grocery shoppers are being systematically fleeced by these detestable organic mountebanks.
    We can now expect a series of unapologetic anecdotal comments from our resident paid NOFA shill. Set your BS filters to high, kids, for the heaping cartload of organic fertilizer we are about to receive from the organic operators in the room.

  • Organic Splendor

    About damned time organics received some adult supervision. We’ve known about the inbred nature of organic certification and the cute little inspection loopholes for a while now.
    http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2011/02/07/organic-myths-debunked-entertaining-style

  • Test the Label

    Are organic foods being tested yet? It’s been a couple years or more since testing was supposed to begin in earnest. Does anyone know the answer to this? Where can we find impartial test results for organic foods?
    http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2011/09/05/we_must_end_the_organic_food_scam_now_106251.html

  • Catherine J Frompovich

    Outrageous! Stricter for organic labeling when genetically modified foods/ingredients are mandated by FDA NOT to be labeled.
    What is going on?

  • http://burningbird.net Shelley

    Catherine, the organic growers are the ones who want the stricter guidelines.
    We all know that conventional agriculture would prefer to hide everything about what it does, including the use of GMO, and various pesticides and herbicides. Luckily organic growers are much more open with consumers.
    So much so, they don’t feel the need to bury stories like this with comments–they know they’re on the “good” side of things.

  • Marshall

    As an organic grower and retailer I think it is time for everyone to relax. We all cheat a little because we have to. It is for the customer’s benefit. When cucumber beetles are destroying the future stuffing for the CSA boxes what does it hurt to go out after dark and discretely apply a little chemical revenge? It isn’t like we do it on everything all the time. Only when we need to. NOP and the National List don’t need to be so restrictive. Inspectors don’t bother us over it and customers never know the difference. What’s the harm? We cannot cope with enforcement unless the National List is updated to reflect reality. It would be best to keep the system we have. Our inspectors don’t get worked up as long as we have the check ready for the inspection fee and certification renewal. And that is never a problem with our CSA because we have plenty of members and all are prepaid. Enforcement is bad because once you start checking one thing leads to another. We don’t want any sort of registration or reporting that might get the Internal Revenue Service snooping around. That could cause CSA membership fees to about double so profits don’t erode. I say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Just leave well enough alone. Just chill.

  • Jem

    Sure, sure — Marshall — Nice Big Trollish Lie — there’s a LOT of Real, Honest organic farmers out there who would take issue with everything you depict…
    The fact is the Organic label is the Gold Standard for ALL other labels in the marketplace. “Natural” is totally meaningless and so is “Sustainable” — and even the Big Corporations are muscling in on “Local”….
    And also — if you look beyond “Ted”‘s muddiness and the other organic bashers hatchet jobs you’ll see that what this Bill proposes gives the National Organic Program more authority to shut down fraudulent operations calling themselves “organic” during the deeper investigative phases — thus better protecting consumers from the shyster frauds who try to use “organic” to line their own pockets.
    Meanwhile — consumers are always free to feed themselves and their families GMOs, manure fed livestock, daily doses of pesticides, etc. that are marketed as wholesome and healthy — NOT. But if you want a real alternative thankfully there’s Organic.

  • mistered

    Marshall, who do you think you’re kidding? Ridiculous.

  • Moonglo CEO

    My CSA is not certified organic. It is too expensive. My members are satisfied when I tell them we mostly follow organic practices and they pay about as much for my CSA as organic CSAs charge. We do a good business. Organic certification is highly overrated. Now we learn about some of the corruption in organic. Not surprising. My members say they fear chemicals but they fear insect damage and uninteresting lightweight CSA boxes a lot more judging from their rare complaints. They especially dislike seeing pest damage on their food and they appreciate when I don’t let that happen so often.

  • Melissa

    Just because certified organic stuff sells for the price of gold does not make it “the gold standard” as one commenter claimed. That guy must live in an ivory tower. He certainly is out of touch with food, farming and household budgets. He needs to get out on the farms and get a clue. I don’t buy organic because there is no worthwhile difference and it costs a ton more. Plus I don’t want to accidentally teach my kids to be snobs about food.

  • Tim M.

    Toughen enforcement on organic farming? BLASPHEMY!!
    Organic is fundamental to American culture, pure as baseball!!!
    Oh, wait…there have been all those doping scandals with all those heavy hitters….uh, just like organic fraud — umm, errr, ah, so never mind, OK?

  • Pamela D.

    One of our daughters (our dreaming diva daughter) had us eating organic stuff for a while. It wasn’t so special but it sure was EXPENSIVE! In fact a lot of the organic stuff was kind of groady, you know how stuff gets when it’s neglected in the details, bug sting marks and odd scabs and some kind of funky moldy aftertastes that sometimes made us wonder what we had just eaten. Not at all surprised to learn about all this organic fraud. We are pleased to have our daughter graduated from school and out in the real world on her own. What an education she got when she had to do her own grocery shopping and put all that expensive organic stuff on her debit card. Needless to say she has come to her senses and stopped wasting her money on silly organic this and that. Now she wastes it repaying school loans. And we are back to eating a nice variety of tasty food that we can afford!

  • Judith

    Melissa and other organic bashers: Whatever you do Don’t let your handlers catch you buying Healthy Organic Food midst your disinformation campaigns. Of course, they may be like China’s Party Elite, who get dibs on the country’s non-toxic Organic production — while in the rest of the country the lowly minions have to contend with melamine-milk, pesticide laden vegetables and drug-laced meat.
    Organic is a huge threat to the chemical, biotech ag establishment because it’s living proof that ample, safe, healthy, high-quality food can be produced WITHOUT toxic adulterants and environmentally destructive industrial-production profit methods.
    Cheap food is only “inexpensive” if you don’t count the major costs that are transferred to (y)our health and (y)our surroundings and the wider environment on a daily basis. Otherwise it’s just plain cheap (shoddy).
    In this country, anyway, Consumers have a right to know what’s in our food and how it is produced, pure and simple — and thankfully there’s a bona-fide alternative in the marketplace labeled Organic.
    Oh, and Melissa I’ll match my 35 years farming experience with you anytime……..

  • Ted

    Heh, Judith deftly pitches all of the lame official organic talking points together into one compendium (or crock) of incontinent organic mythology. So practiced is she, it’s as if that is her job, her vocation citing and reciting the approved pantsload of organic propaganda. And a fine load it is! Where I’m from we call that a “rucky-tuck”. Do you know what that is? A rucky-tuck is 20 pounds of horse crap in a 10 pound sack. A comic opera best beheld from a safe distance.
    http://reason.com/blog/2008/05/01/organic-food-myths-debunked
    Skilled as she is one might think NOFA or someone would be recruiting Judith to work for them as a paid spokesperson. They’re really missing the boat here.

  • Jon

    As usual Ted-troll Mudd, resident organic and farmers market basher has nothing to add to the discussion but disinformation and prevarication. How we go “Ted”…

  • Sharyn Guthrie

    Buy local, know your farmers. Now we want to ship organics in from all over the world, why? Organic is getting big and the government looks for ways to cash in, as always, especially now that the population is getting educated about all the crap the food industry has been dishing the last 50 years. I trust the farmers I buy from at my local farmers markets. I buy locally grown foods from my co-op and the majority of my diet is seasonal foods.
    Label GMO’s!!

  • Jim Brown

    I’ll share a little organic versus non-organic experience. I was at a relatively large dried fruit processor to solve an electronic data interchange problem and I was talking with the plant manager when in walked to assistant plant manager. He politely interrupted our conversation to ask the plant manager if it was ok to fumigate the plant for pests and rodents. The plant manager responded, “Do you have all the organics out?” The assistant plant manager said “Yes.” The plant manager then replied, “Ok, go ahead and fumigate.” Now I realize that the FDA allows for a certain part per whatever for “inert” substances that end up on food, but I personally would rather have the product that is free of these substances.