USDA Uncovers Attempted Fraud in Chinese Organic Food

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) publicly released evidence last week of attempted fraud by a Chinese organic agricultural marketer.

The agency’s National Organic Program (NOP) made public a fraudulent organic certificate produced by an uncertified supplier in China. The Chinese firm used the counterfeit certificate to represent non-organic crops, including soybeans, millet and buckwheat, as certified organic.

Ecocert, a French USDA accredited certifying agent whose name was illegally used on the fraudulent document, brought this issue to the attention of NOP officials at USDA, according to watchdog group The Cornucopia Institute.

In its 2009 report on the organic soy industry, entitled Behind the Bean, The Cornucopia Institute raised concerns about organic soybeans imported from China. The group said the recent finding by the USDA, confirms suspicions that imported organic products cannot always be trusted.

In the 2009 report, the Wisconsin-based farm policy research group estimated that as much as half of organic soybeans used in the US came from overseas, primarily China.

"This incident illustrates why so many responsible processors and marketers in the organic industry shun organic imports," states Charlotte Vallaeys, the Cornucopia report’s lead author.

After multiple incidents of food contamination, including melamine in pet food, some US corporations are becoming leery of putting their brand name on products containing Chinese ingredients, conventional and organic.

In the 2009 report, Cornucopia raised a red flag over the lack of judicious organic oversight in China by the USDA. Cornucopia explained, based on documents it secured under the Freedom of Information Act, what happened when the USDA did finally sent auditors to China for the first time in 2007, a full five years after the federal organic standards took effect.

"This was the first time USDA staff members visited certifiers in China, Chinese processors, and Chinese farms to ensure that their procedures were in compliance with USDA organic standards," stated Kastel. "It was an inexcusable delay, especially given the history of widespread Chinese fraud in international commerce and fraudulent marketing of organic food in their domestic market, which had been well documented in the Chinese media."

In the entire country of China the USDA auditors only inspected two farms and two processors, finding serious violations at the time. No follow-up inspections were conducted to determine whether the non-compliances identified were aberrations or symptomatic of systemic problems, Cornucopia said.

Organic soybeans imported from China have become a prevalent source of animal feed used on industrial-scale organic livestock operations, especially in Western states. The reliance on imported organics has economically injured North American farmers, who are often unable to compete with the cheaper prices offered by Chinese firms.

In the current incident the NOP has not found evidence that any product was sold, labeled, or represented as organic using the fraudulent certificate. However, Cornucopia notes that the full extent of the scandal is not known at this time.

"Although these violations may occur, the vigilance of the organic community will help abate them," said Miles McEvoy, NOP deputy administrator. "We are warning certifying agents and organic handlers to be on the lookout and to notify the NOP if anyone tries to sell organic products using fraudulent certificates."

The Cornucopia Institute praised the current administration at the USDA, and McEvoy in particular, for its aggressive posture in relation to enforcing federal law and protecting the integrity of the organic industry.

As a resource for consumers and wholesale buyers who wish to avoid organic products containing Chinese soybeans, The Cornucopia Institute developed a scorecard of organic soy food brands. The source of the soybeans is one of the main rating criteria used for the scorecard, with companies that exclusively source domestically-grown organic soybeans, from family-scale farms, rated more highly than those that rely on imported soybeans. The scorecard is available at the link below.

Website: http://www.cornucopia.org     
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