My latest for Civil Eats is about the terminology we take for granted so that billions of dollars can exchange hands in the organic market. Given that we throw away over a third of the food we task our burning Earth to provide us, we don’t have wiggle room for such inauthenticity and inefficiency.
Audit Reveals Weaknesses in USDA Organic Program Oversight
Can we trust organic food that has been produced overseas? That question has gained urgency lately as demand for organic products has outpaced domestic production, leading to steady growth in such imports. The total value of imported organic foods tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grew from $667 million in 2011 to $1.65 billion in 2016.
An investigation by the Washington Post earlier this year found that large shipments of conventionally grown corn and soy were improperly labeled organic, bringing consumer concerns about the reliability of the USDA Organic label to a new level. For years, news reports have raised questions about the validity of organic certification for milk, chicken, eggs, and many other types of organic products.
“There’s nothing like fraud to put concern and distress in the minds of consumers,” explained the Organic Trade Association (OTA)’s Gwendolyn Wyard, the regulatory and technical affairs vice-president leading the group’s task force on global supply chain integrity. “We need to send a loud and clear message that fraud isn’t tolerated, and we can stop it.”
Now, a new audit of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) international trade arrangements and agreements, conducted by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, underscores those concerns and shows that the organic industry has far to travel before Americans can trust what is sold as certified organic, up and down the supply chain.