Cracking down on organic food fraud

Millions of dollars of non-organic products have been intentionally mislabeled and sold as organic. The industry wants to crack down on fraud.

The National Organic Program has opened up economic opportunities and new markets for American farmers. However, mislabeling destroys consumer confidence in the program and undercuts those farmers who adhere to the law.

Gwendolyn Wyard, Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs with the Organic Trade Association, says that the USDA has a proposed rule that would deter and detect organic fraud.

“The first thing that it does, is it mandates that more players are involved in the sale of organic foods, like brokers and traders, obtain certification,” she said. “So, making sure that we are closing any gaps or weaknesses in the supply chain right now.”

With the new rule in place, roughly 2,000 operations will need to get certified under the program. Half of those are outside the United States.

“Organic products, in general, coming into the United States must have an import certificate that comes along with it and the data has to be uploaded into the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Automated Commercial System, but essentially, traceability,” Wyard said. “And that traceability, there’s going to be a requirement for supply chain audits, mass balances all the way through; so, it’s very, very much focused on complete transparency and traceability all the way through.”

Another part of the rule will mandate the reporting of organic acres. She calls this a complete overhaul to the regulations that will strengthen the oversight and enforcement of rules governing organic production worldwide.

“It is really focused on closing gaps in the organic supply chain and strengthening the organic regulations in order to prevent fraud and it’s critical that we do this and we do this right because shoppers need to know that the organic standards are strong,” Wyard said. “Anytime there is fraud, it takes the value out of the organic chain. It hurts organic farmers wherever they farm. We are a label, we are a field that entirely relies on trust - consumer trust.”

Organic sales have grown from $1 billion dollars to $55 billion dollars since 1990. The public comment period of the proposed rule recently closed and the USDA has a lot of comments to go through.