Organic Consumers Association

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Organic Food Fraud Leads Congress to Weigh Bill Doubling USDA Oversight

WASHINGTON - Amid growing tumult over whether the “USDA Organic” label really guarantees that a product is grown as advertised, Congress is weighing legislation that would roughly double the budget for the USDA’s oversight of the organic industry.

The bill, introduced by Rep. John Faso, R-N.Y., has 33 House cosponsors, and its backers hope that its bipartisan support will enable its passage next year.

The USDA’s National Organic Program is supposed to protect consumers from food that is advertised as organic but that does not meet organic standards. This year The Washington Post has published several stories casting doubt on the authenticity of the products from some of the largest “organic” producers of milk, eggs and imported grains.

“There’s a growing concern about the capacity of the Agriculture Department to accurately monitor products that are labelled organic but may not actually be,” Faso said, citing the shipments of bogus organic soybeans from the Ukraine through Turkey to the United States, which was reported in The Post in May.

“Because you can get a premium price, there are inevitably going to be people who will try to trick the [organic] system,” Faso said. “Under the terms of this bill, we will gradually increase the funding that’s available to the department and the regulators, so that we can better track and monitor these products.”

The legislation roughly doubles the budget for the USDA’s organic program to $24 million over the next five years. It also, among other things, calls for the modernization of the USDA system that tracks imports of purportedly “organic” foods, allows organic inspectors to share investigative information across a supply chain, and requires officials to file an annual report to Congress detailing its organic investigations.

“I definitely support it,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sponsored the 1990 legislation creating the USDA’s organic program. Since then, he said, the rapid growth in sales has outpaced enforcement. “We’ve built a tremendous, $47 billion industry. I’m not going to let it disappear.”

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