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Organic Food Imports Don’t Have To Meet Organic Food Standards

Many people wonder if the organic food that they buy really is organic. Well... when they buy imported organic foods from outside the United States - they may not be getting organic foods. Fraud occurs due to a major loophole in the current organic standards, a loophole that certain big companies and organizations want to keep.

OrganicEye, a non-profit investigative organization (organic industry watchdog) has published a paper outlining this loophole leading to fraud in organic imports, and the damage to American small organic farmers.

The loophole is that organic food imports do not have to meet the same standards as American organic growers. Imported organic foods farmers or producers do not have to have annual inspections, record-keeping, or any documentation that they are producing organic food. And on and on. Instead, a large organization can just announce that all the food from all sorts of places is "organic", and that's that. Nothing further needed.

Of course there is massive fraud of organic imports, which has been documented over and over. [By the way, avoid organic foods from China, Brazil, and Turkey - many are known to actually not be organic (fraud!)] It is cheaper to grow foods conventionally, but sell it as organic. Big $$$!

And who gets screwed? Consumers, as well as American organic farmers who have to maintain certain standards, have annual inspections, etc. - all of which cost money. This is why the foods American farmers grow/produce cost more than imports, and why so many of them are forced out of business

What to do? Look for and buy organic food produced in the US. Support small organic farmers - a good place to find such foods are farmers markets.

Excerpts from Organic Eye: USDA Sides with Corporate Agribusiness Lobbyists as Massive Quantities of Illegal Imports Crush US Organic Farmers

LA FARGE, WIS. — An organic industry watchdog has released a white paper outlining how uninspected organic imports have driven US farmers out of lucrative markets. The results of their findings triggered a formal request to the USDA Office of Inspector General to investigate the apparent systemic failure by the agency’s National Organic Program to enforce federal law.

The issue of foreign agribusinesses inspecting and certifying their own farmer-suppliers, as opposed to abiding by requirements clearly outlined in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) requiring all farms to be certified and inspected on an annual basis by independent, USDA-accredited agents, was first brought to the public’s attention by OrganicEye when a federal lawsuit was filed in October 2023.

Research conducted by Wisconsin-based OrganicEye, the country’s preeminent organic governmental and corporate watchdog, documented how hazelnut farmers in the Pacific Northwest are being shut out of the market and dramatically undercut on price, resulting in the lawsuit filed by one of its farmer-members last fall in federal district court.

More recently, farmers in Florida and Hawaii, who were once successfully supplying the domestic wholesale market with turmeric, have contacted OrganicEye’s hotline to report that they too are losing their livelihoods — despite the fact that turmeric, a culinary herbal root, has greatly increased in popularity due to its documented anti-inflammatory and other medicinal qualities.

“When we first commercialized the organic farming movement in earnest, in the 1980s, the foundational marketplace messaging was that all production and advertising claims would be verified for authenticity by independent certifiers. And the operative term is, ‘independent’,” stated Mark Kastel, Executive Director at OrganicEye.

Subsequently, when the US Congress passed OFPA as part of the 1990 farm bill, it adopted the heretofore voluntary certification protocol requiring every farm and manufacturer making organic claims to be overseen by independent third parties that would, going forward, be directly supervised and audited by the USDA.

“Although almost universally complied with in domestic production, that system has completely broken down for imports,” attested Kastel. “A large percentage of all foreign imports, making up a sizable amount of the organic food Americans eat, are coming from ‘producer groups,’ whose grower-members the USDA has exempted from the requirements to be certified.”

Brian and Valerie Quant, certified organic turmeric growers in Newberry, Florida have been squeezed out of the wholesale market and are now relegated to marketing direct to consumers, food manufacturers, and small retailers around the country through their website for White Rabbit Acres.

“What grinds my gears is that we, as US farmers and carrying GAP and organic certification, are held to a much higher standard and have annual inspections, associated fees, and extensive required bookkeeping responsibilities,” stated Brian Quant.

With a lawsuit pending which, if successful, would compel the USDA to enforce the law, effectively banning group certification, the industry’s major lobby group, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), is threatening to go to Congress, to change the current law to permit the unfair and currently illegal organic importing to continue.

The OTA has passionately argued that their motivation to lobby for continuing group certification is their sincere care about small, foreign farmers. However, in research on hazelnuts, turmeric, and other commodities, OrganicEye says it appears that offshore organic producers are receiving little if any premium, and no documentary evidence indicates that participating in organic production has lifted communities out of poverty.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to cry crocodile tears on behalf of these hard-working, small farmers while OTA agribusiness members rake in billions of dollars and fail to show any compassion for the United States growers who are being squeezed out of business,” OrganicEye’s Kastel said in criticism aimed at OTA lobbyists.

OrganicEye is encouraging organic shoppers to seek out US-grown products, across-the-board, when buying food for their families. They are simultaneously asking all organic stakeholders, farmers, ethical business participants, and eaters, to contact their congressional representatives asking them to be on-guard against stealthy attempts by lobbyists to weaken federal law prohibiting uncertified/uninspected organic imports.

OrganicEye has produced an action alert using software designed to make it easy for constituents to contact their members of Congress and ask them to defend US farmers and the authenticity of the organic food supply.

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