What is in this article?:
- USDA uncovers scheme to import fake Chinese organic food
- Lack of oversight
- On Feb. 11, The Department of Agriculture (USDA) publicly released evidence of attempted fraud by a Chinese organic agricultural marketer.
- The agency's National Organic Program (NOP) made public a fraudulent organic certificate produced by an uncertified supplier in China. The Chinese firm used the counterfeit certificate to represent non-organic crops, including soybeans, millet and buckwheat, as certified organic.
Lack of oversight
Also in the report, Cornucopia raised a red flag over the lack of judicious organic oversight in China by the USDA. Cornucopia explained, based on documents it secured under the Freedom of Information Act, what happened when the USDA did finally sent auditors to China for the first time in 2007, a full five years after the federal organic standards took effect.
“This was the first time USDA staff members visited certifiers in China, Chinese processors, and Chinese farms to ensure that their procedures were in compliance with USDA organic standards,” stated Kastel. “It was an inexcusable delay, especially given the history of widespread Chinese fraud in international commerce and fraudulent marketing of organic food in their domestic market, which had been well documented in the Chinese media.”
In the entire country of China the USDA auditors only inspected two farms and two processors, finding serious violations at the time. No follow-up inspections were conducted to determine whether the noncompliances identified were aberrations or symptomatic of systemic problems.
Organic soybeans imported from China have become a prevalent source of animal feed used on industrial-scale organic livestock operations, especially in Western states. The reliance on imported organics has economically injured North American farmers, who are often unable to compete with the cheaper prices offered by Chinese firms.
In the current incident the NOP has not found evidence that any product was sold, labeled, or represented as organic using the fraudulent certificate. However, the full extent of the scandal is not known at this time.
"Although these violations may occur, the vigilance of the organic community will help abate them," said Miles McEvoy, NOP deputy administrator. "We are warning certifying agents and organic handlers to be on the lookout and to notify the NOP if anyone tries to sell organic products using fraudulent certificates."
The Cornucopia Institute has praised the current administration at the USDA, and McEvoy in particular, for its aggressive posture in relation to enforcing federal law and protecting the integrity of the organic industry.
“We call upon responsible industry players, farmers, feed mills, processors and retailers, to place an immediate moratorium on commodities imported from China,” stated the Cornucopia's Kastel. “Even if the authenticity of Chinese organics can be proven, shipping food around the world, and undercutting sustainable prices for domestic farmers, is not 'organic' in the eyes of many consumers.”
As a resource for consumers and wholesale buyers who wish to avoid organic products containing Chinese soybeans, The Cornucopia Institute developed a scorecard of organic soy food brands. The source of the soybeans is one of the main rating criteria used for the scorecard, with companies that exclusively source domestically-grown organic soybeans, from family-scale farms, rated more highly than those that rely on imported soybeans. The scorecard is available on the Cornucopia website, www.cornucopia.org.
“We identified the companies that have maintained positive relationships with domestic organic farmers and have thereby managed to maintain a steady and adequate supply of North American-grown organic soybeans. Staying true to the spirit of organics, these companies remained devoted to their farmers even when China offered organic soybeans at slightly lower prices,” states Vallaeys. “Given the recent finding by the USDA, the companies that kept buying North American soybeans, even when Chinese supplies were cheaper, can be proud of the organic integrity of their products.”