Posted on May 20, 2019 by Sustainable Food News

USDA failed to act on recent organic grain import flagged as fraud risk, says trade group

Organic Farmers Assoc. says USDA's Nat'l Organic Program must do better to keep fraudulent grain imports out of U.S. market

The Organic Farmers Association (OFA) is alleging that the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) earlier this month failed to allow the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to inspect a suspected fraudulent shipment of organic grain at a North Carolina port.

The OFA, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing U.S. organic farmers, said it had received “a tip” on May 3 that the bulk carrier ship, Andalucia, a Liberian-flagged ship loaded in Turkey, was destined for a North Carolina port “with a high-risk shipment of bulk organic grain.”

“We were notified that the [NOP] had been alerted to this ship through a formal filed complaint,” the OFA said. “OFA asked a contact in North Carolina to request that the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDACS) call their local Customs and Border Protection (CBP) office to alert them of this high-risk ship and that its organic status should be verified before the bulk cargo was unloaded and then distributed  in the United States.”

The OFA said it was notified on May 6 that NCDACS and CBP had “communicated effectively,” and that the CBP had communicated with the NOP to ascertain whether it should inspect the cargo “for organic integrity,” since it cannot do so without a request from the USDA.

However, a day later, OFA said it was notified that the NOP told CBP that the shipment was not fraudulent and to not carry out any inspection of the cargo.

“Yet just two days later, on May 9, the USDA NOP announced that they had revoked the accreditation of the organic certifier, Control Union, that had certified the ‘organic’ grain on the ship,” the OFA said.

In fact, the NOP had suspended the accreditation of organic certification agency Control Union Certifications’ satellite office in Turkey, due to a “continued lack of knowledge of the USDA organic regulations and NOP policies” by CUC’s staff in the Izmir, Turkey office, according to a May 9 letter from Cheri Courtney, director of the NOP’s Accreditation and International Activities division, to Alvaro Martinez of CUC, based in Zwolle, the Netherlands.

“Clearly, the grain onboard the ship was high-risk for organic fraud, and NOP knew that, yet NOP did not use their relationship and authority with [CBP] to act to protect U.S. organic farmers and consumers,” the OFA said. “We find this unacceptable.”

The OFA is now asking industry stakeholders and the general public to contact members of the congressional delegation and urge them to call USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, who oversees the NOP, to ask that for every ship importing bulk or container organic products that the NOP request CBP to check the following four things as standard protocol:

  1. Require use of the appropriate organic import code. Verify and notate code.
  2. Check for a valid organic certificate or other paperwork identifying the organic status of the cargo.
  3. Check for pesticide residues by taking a pesticide residue test of the cargo. If it is under the “5 percent of EPA tolerance” for that pesticide, then the cargo can be verified as organic.  If the residue is above the 5 percent of EPA tolerance threshold it should be marked as conventional and not permitted to be unloaded as organic and USDA NOP should be notified.
  4. Check for increased risk of carrying insects and pests. If CBP requires that fumigation be used on the cargo, the cargo should be marked as conventional and not permitted to be unloaded as organic and USDA NOP should be notified.

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