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OTA takes action on fraudulent imports

A vulnerability was revealed in the organic supply chain via a complaint that the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Organic Program (NOP) received regarding non-organic grains and oilseeds being imported from Turkey and fraudulently sold as organic in the United States.

In the course of investigating these complaints, NOP identified violations of the USDA organic regulations involving soybean shipments managed by Beyaz Agro, a certified organic grain and oilseed handling operation, and two related entities: Hakan Organics based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Agropex, based in Broadway, Virginia. This investigation related to a shipment of 16,250 metric tons of soybeans, which arrived in the United States aboard the M/V “Four Diamond” on November 12, 2016. The soybeans had been previously exported from Ukraine to Turkey and were then re-exported from Turkey to the United States. However, before leaving Ukraine, the soybeans had been fumigated with aluminum phosphide. Aluminum phosphide is a prohibited substance under the USDA organic regulations. Upon arrival in the United States, the fumigated soybeans were sold as USDA organic. This action violated the Organic Foods Production Act and the USDA organic regulations.


What is the Organic Trade Association’s position?

Fraud cannot be tolerated in the organic system, inside or outside of the United States. Anytime there is fraud anywhere in the organic system, it takes value out of the organic chain, and hurts organic farmers wherever they farm. The oversight of foreign organic suppliers and the enforcement of organic standards must be rigorous and robust. The integrity of the organic certification process and the commitment to compliance and enforcement are the lifeblood of the organic industry, ensure a level playing field for U.S. organic farmers, and the organic industry supports strong action to uphold that integrity.


What is the Organic Trade Association doing to address the issue?

To adequately address the situation, several approaches are needed. Everyone has a role, and both the private and the public sector must engage. OTA is working on several fronts and engaged in the following strategies:

  • Organic Trade Association's Global Organic Supply Chain (GOSCI) Task Force & Pilot Program: Convened in June 2017, the GOSCI Task Force's mandate is to develop a best practices guide to use in managing and verifying global organic supply chain integrity to help brands and traders manage and mitigate the risk and occurrence of organic fraud. Consistent with its mandate, the Task Force has completed a draft of its GOSCI Best Practice Guide that will help organic operations develop systems to manage and mitigate the risk and occurrence of organic fraud. The work of the Task Force is now moving into a Pilot Project program that will commence in June 2018 and run through the end of August. Pilot participants will help shape the final version of the Guide, be recognized as early adopters of GOSCI best practices, and help set the stage for industry-wide adoption of an organic fraud prevention program. Collaborating partners include USDA-NOP, the Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA) and NSF International.

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"It is encouraging to see that the Organic Trade Association has formed a task force to address the integrity of organic imports, and that the National Organic Program (NOP) is cracking down as well. These are important steps."
--Ambassador Darci Vetter in Agripulse Op Ed

  • Developing guidance on what to do when you suspect or detect fraud: It is essential to maintain a routine watch of USDA National Organic Program (NOP) announcements regarding fraudulent certificates, investigations, suspensions, revocations, etc. as well as monitoring other official and industry publications, which may give early warning of information or changes that may trigger new threats of organic fraud, or change the priority of existing threats. Conversely, it is of paramount importance to report fraud when it is detected. It may also be appropriate to alert your business partners when you detect fraud to prevent the fraudulent product or material from reaching other parts of the value chain. In all cases of detected fraud, it’s critical that cases are reported to an accredited certifier agency or material review organization as well as the competent authority (USDA-NOP). To assist in the process, OTA is developing guidance on what to do when you suspect or detect fraud along with a template that will help the filer submit an organized, complete and actionable complaint.
     
  • Advocating for a more risk-focused system at the National Organic Program: It's critical that when unusual trends or anomalies in trade of organic goods are spotted, the agency will alert industry to advise heightened vigilance. OTA has identified areas where this process could be improved and is committed to communications with NOP that will encourage a more risk-focused approach. It’s also critical that USDA is committed to providing timely and detailed communication on critical compliance issues to the trade, such as suspension or revocation of certificates. OTA was pleased to see the notice that NOP released on June 13 updating its enforcement action posting system. Specifically, the NOP is changing how they post enforcement actions. The new approach expands the types of notices they post and makes postings more frequent. OTA will continue to monitor and encourage timely and detailed communication from NOP to the trade on notifications of potential fraud as well as enforcement actions.
     
  • Encouraging more risk-based compliance: OTA applauds the steps that are being taken by USDA-accredited organic certifying agencies such as California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and Oregon Tilth. On May 15, CCOF notified handlers, importers and other entities of new requirements to obtain approval for imported grain shipments, including demonstrating full traceability back to growers and that prohibited materials were not used at any point along the supply chain. Oregon Tilth, a USDA-accredited certification agency base in Corvallis, OR has also established a similar policy for certain at-risk commodities as well. OTA supports the actions being taken by the ACAs to shore up confidence in imported organic grains and we plan to encourage other certifiers and companies to do the same. This includes supporting the work of the ACA Traceability Working Group that was convened to identify the biggest challenges related to verifying traceability and to offer as many solutions as possible in the form of Best Practices.
     
  • Organic Trade Associations’ Farm Bill Platform on National Organic Program Trade Oversight: While all domestic and imported organic products must meet USDA’s strict standards, a greater emphasis on authority and capacity to conduct investigations will keep organic markets strong. Additionally, investments in technology and access to data to improve tracking of international organic trade will provide the necessary information to ensure a transparent and healthy marketplace.

The Organic Trade Association is asking for the following in the 2018 Farm Bill:

  • • Authorize funding for NOP to keep pace with organic industry growth
    • Fund a one-time $5M to upgrade international oversight systems and trade tracking to ensure access to full traceability back to the farm
    • Limit the application of operations excluded from certification (ports, importers, brokers, on-line auctions
    • Require USDA to report to Congress on investigations and actions taken

Read OTA’s 2018 Farm Bill Platform    


Resources + Background


Contact
Task force + regulatory inquiries:
Gwendolyn Wyard

Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs
(503) 798-3294

Media inquiries: 
Maggie McNeil

Director of Media Relations
(202) 403-8514


 

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