The US Office of the Inspector General, in an audit of the way the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) reviews the National Organic Program (NOP), said more transparency was needed in the process used to established if another country’s organic standards are equivalent to those used in the US.
In their report, the auditors said: “The lack of transparency could result in reduced US consumer confidence in the integrity of organic products imported into the United States,” they added.
The AMS agreed with the comment and said it would establish a procedure to “clearly document and disclose” the outcomes of the process that offered a side-by-side analysis of the standards used.
The auditing group also said that the AMS needed to improve its control on imports as the documents were not verified at US ports of entry.
The auditors recommended that AMS “develop and implement a plan to verify NOP import certificates at US ports of entry, identify fraudulent import certificates, and capture organic import data.”
Additionally, controls on organic feed grains and other products that were fumigated at the port were not adequate, they said.
“Imported agricultural products, whether organic or conventional, are sometimes fumigated at US ports of entry to prevent prohibited pests from entering the United States,” they said. “AMS has not established and implemented controls at US ports of entry to identify, track, and ensure that treated organic products are not sold, labeled, or represented as organic.”
Lastly, not all audits in countries with equivalency arrangements were found to be done in a timely manner, the auditors said. It was recommended that a performance measure be developed to track the timeliness of onsite reviews done in those countries.
The AMS generally concurred with all of the recommendations and set July 2018 as the completion deadline for all but one of the suggestions.
Fraud in organic feed imports
The call for change comes after a public discussion on potential cases of fraud in organic feed imports that took place in the US in the last several months.
Additionally, the AMS announced in June that it was considering additional steps to improve the global organic control system and asked the National Organic Standards Board to comment on potential options at that time.
The organic industry watchdog group Cornucopia Institute applauded the step.