ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Organic Fraud?

The Dallas Morning News has run a groundbreaking series of stories about apparent fraud in the organic food industry.

The main story, "Is Organic Food The Real Deal?", was based on a Freedom of Information Act requests of documents from the USDA about complaints against certain producers and certifiers.

...a Dallas Morning News analysis has found that the United States Department of Agriculture does not know how often organic rules are broken and has not consistently taken action when potential violations were pointed out.

The most pertinent details had to do with crops coming from China.

Mutsumi Sakuyoshi, a Japanese inspector who has checked Chinese soybean fields for many of the world's largest certifiers, said she confronted one farm's workers after finding an empty plastic bag of herbicide.

Workers told her wind must have blown it from a neighbor's field.

Another farmer gave her an affidavit stating the land under inspection hadn't been used for at least three years. Ms. Sakuyoshi found the government official who stamped it and questioned its accuracy.

"He said, 'No. I don't know. I don't care. They just asked me to stamp it, so I stamped it,' " she said.

The only questionable part of the story I had was a blanket assertion by a USDA researcher that organics would be impossible in China because of water and air pollution. I would be very careful about writing off a country as large as China and its 2 billion population, especially considering that small peasant farmers historically used and still use organic methods such as composting.

But there is a major questionmark about whether the organic exports from China meet the USDA organic regs. That's a very worthwhile question to ask and to my mind has not been sufficiently answered yet.

I have heard annedotal reports of cancelled orders of organic products from China because of these concerns.

It also ran a story on a certifier who was certifying fields with prohibited materials. The USDA really needs to clamp down to maintain, and restore, credibility to the industry. Here's the piece Organic Certifier Targeted