Last week, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for the National Organic Program (NOP) announced its findings, where it alleged that 11 businesses involved in the organic trade had fraudulent organic certificates. Several businesses working with feed ingredients were among those reported.
We wrote about stakeholder concerns in relation to US organic imports back in October 2017. You can read it here.
The use of fraudulent USDA organic certifications is damaging to farmers, traders and consumers, said a spokesperson with the USDA.
“USDA’s posting of fraudulent certificates does not necessarily mean that the named operator or certifying agent was involved in illegal activity,” she added.
There have also been instances where fake organic certificates have been generated and used both with and without, the knowledge of the operator or certifying agent named on the false paperwork, she said.
The organic community should continue to be vigilant in protecting organic integrity, the USDA said. Organic handlers need to continue reviewing certificates carefully and should validate documents with their certifying agents as necessary.
“USDA has the authority to suspend or revoke the organic certificates of any farm or business that violates the organic regulations, as well as to levy financial penalties of up to $11,000 per violation,” she told FeedNavigator.
In addition to specific investigations, accredited certifiers also conduct independent investigations to check for the compliance of businesses with the organic regulations, the spokesperson said.
“Collectively, in the past five years, these certifiers have caught and suspended or revoked the certification of more than 900 organic farms, ranches, and businesses for violations of the USDA organic regulations,” the spokesperson said.
Annually, the USDA handles complaints or questions for less than 2% of the more than 40,000 USDA certified producers and businesses involved in the organic program, the spokesperson said.
“Many questions submitted through our complaint system turn out to be about companies that are not certified, but illegally make organic claims,” she said. “All complaints are reviewed and an investigation is opened when justified by the available information.”
The majority of the businesses the USDA claimed as having fraudulent certifications are international, but one is based in the US, said the department. They include: Coopprobata, Cooperativa Agricola Los Tainos; Agroglobe Kereskedelmi és Szolgáltató Kft.; Buhagiar Company; Buywise Wholesale Ltd; Cooperation for Industrial Development Lanka (PVT.) LTD; Firma Mega Group; Organic Aura International (An Organic Ayurveda Company); Pyrana Wholesales BVBA; Shanghai Soyoung Biotech, Inc.’ an unnamed business located in Sri Lanka; and Yamada Bee Farm Co., Ltd.
The products covered by those businesses handling feed ingredients or grains included corn, palm kernel oil, rapeseed, sorghum, soybeans and soybean meal.
When a complaint is made an investigation is done and based on the findings of that inquiry and the seriousness of the potential violation, the USDA has several options. The department can issue a notice of warning, a cease and desist order, or suspend or revoke certification.
“When it is proven that someone seriously and knowingly broke the organic rules, the department can also issue monetary fines,” she said.
The USDA also posts information found during investigations into fake credentials so businesses can crosscheck the certificates they rely on when selling or buying organic feed or other products.