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'Uncertainty and Dysfunction' Have Overtaken USDA Program for Organic Foods, Key Lawmaker Says

The difficulty of detecting fraud in imported "organic" food means that it's hard to know what products can be trusted, a grain industry executive told a Senate committee on Thursday, as lawmakers prepare the next farm bill.

The testimony comes after news that millions of pounds of "organic" corn and soybeans have reached U.S. ports despite evidence that they were grown conventionally.

Given the current challenges of  enforcement at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “it is unreasonable to accept that grain being imported into the U.S. as organic has been adequately validated,” Kenneth Dallmier, president of Clarkson Grain, said in his testimony.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is collecting information as lawmakers prepare the next major agriculture legislation. It appears that one key lawmaker is ready to shake up the way the USDA regulates what can be sold as “organic.”

“It seems that uncertainty and dysfunction have overtaken the National Organic Standards Board and the regulations associated with the National Organic Program,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks. “These problems create an unreliable regulatory environment and prevent farmers that choose organic from utilizing advancements in technology and operating their business in an efficient and effective manner. Simply put, this hurts our producers and economies in rural America.

”The remarks from the chairman portend a legislative fight over USDA organic standards, one that pits small farmers, many of whom have embraced organic products as a means of financial survival, against larger agricultural companies that have sought to loosen organic rules in the name of efficiency and affordability. It was not clear what new technology Roberts was referring to, but whether to classify “hydroponics” as organic has become a contentious question among organic farmers.