USDA Vows to Crack Down on Organic Products After Audit

September 21, 2010

Following an audit that deemed the U.S. Department of Agriculture...s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) enforcement of organic products too lax in recent years, USDA...s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has promised to step up policing. AMS, which oversees the organic program, says that it will start increasing spot testing of companies operating under USDA...s certified-organic label, including companies that issue organic certification, to ensure compliance. It will also more strongly police products on store shelves that are labeled as organic.

Following an audit that deemed the U.S. Department of Agriculture...s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) enforcement of organic products too lax in recent years, USDA...s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has promised to step up policing. AMS, which oversees the organic program, says that it will start increasing spot testing of companies operating under USDA...s certified-organic label, including companies that issue organic certification, to ensure compliance. It will also more strongly police products on store shelves that are labeled as organic.

Released to the public in March, the report found that, in addition to not routinely inspecting organic facilities for pesticides, NOP failed to act in a timely fashion against companies fraudulently marketing products as organic.

Among other specific examples of loose enforcement, the report cited NOP as allowing a nonorganic mint to continue to be marketed under USDA...s organic label for two years. It also stated that even after one company agreed not to market a product as organic, it continued to do so for a period of five years, without being caught.

The NOP audit was conducted by Phyllis K. Fong, USDA...s inspector general. It was a follow-up to an initial NOP audit in 2005 after the NOP office was created in 2002. Fong...s report said that the audit was performed in part due to the growing organic market, which it cited as having grown between 14% and 21% annually over the past decade.

In response to the report, AMS administrator Rayne Pegg stated, 'NOP will audit more international operations and devote additional resources to enhance the accountability and enforcement of the organic standards.' It agreed to the report...s findings and outlined the steps it intends to take for improvement.

Last fiscal year, NOP received an additional $3 million in funding and doubled its staff to 31. It may receive an additional $3.1 million in fiscal year 2010, which would aid the office in cracking down on enforcement.

'The integrity of the organic label depends largely upon effective enforcement and oversight of the many accredited certifying agents responsible for reviewing organic operations,' Pegg acknowledged.