Consumer and environmental advocacy group Beyond Pesticides (BP) said Wednesday it has hired Mark Kastel, a founder and former executive director of The Cornucopia Institute, to head up its new investigative arm and industry watchdog dubbed OrganicEye.
Washington, D.C.-based BP said OrganicEye “will focus on defending the time-honored philosophy and legal definition of organic farming and food production from USDA’s systemic failure to protect the interests of organic farmers, ethical businesses, and consumers.”
To aid in OrganicEye’s investigative efforts, a toll-free hotline, 1-844-EYE-TIPS (844-393-8477), has been set up to facilitate tips from the public.
Kastel, which BP referred to as “one of the most experienced independent fraud investigators in the organics industry,” recently ended his 15-year run at Wisconsin-based Cornucopia, which continues its search for a new executive director.
“Mark is highly respected in the organic farming community, and by key business leaders who walk their talk, while at the same time feared and reviled by powerful interests profiting from the weakening of organic standards,” said Jay Feldman, BP executive director. “With Mark on board, we will amplify the voices of committed organic stakeholders who share our sense of urgency to stop the degradation of the environment and health, with organic as a critical piece of the solution.”
BP said Kastel’s organic advocacy efforts have “compelled USDA to take a number of major enforcement actions resulting in decertification, fines, modifications to ongoing operations, and millions of dollars in settlements of class action lawsuits related to consumer fraud.”
BP also said Kastel’s efforts “have also been instrumental in helping bust large international crime syndicates laundering conventional commodities as ‘organic.'”
“You don’t have to take my word for the inadequacy of enforcement actions by the USDA’s National Organic Program,” said Kastel. “With the backdrop of thousands of cases of fraud submitted to the NOP, there is a legacy of independent audits by the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) criticizing their oversight of certifiers and poor record of bringing fraudulent operations to justice.”
In its “first official action,” OrganicEye has sent formal letters to the OIG and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, requesting an investigation of a recent suspected fraudulent shipment of organic grain from Turkey that the NOP allegedly failed to allow the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to inspect at a North Carolina port.
“Turkey is a country with past documented, wholesale fraud in the organic arena, and the certifier was currently under investigation by USDA, and shortly thereafter lost its accreditation,” said Kastel. “It’s unconscionable that, at a time when the credibility of the organic seal is in jeopardy, NOP would not choose to take decisive action in this matter.”