LA CROSSE, Wis. – In recent years organic grains have taken a hit in price and integrity because of fraudulent practices – even though organic is a small fraction of grain produced.
“Every time (fraud) gets caught, we can learn and look forward to prevention,” said David Glasgow, deputy administrator for the National Organic Program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.
The organic-standards program is working. But to further aid in the integrity of organics, the National Organic Program is increasing its budget for compliance, from $9 million to $16 million. That allows an increase in the number of inspectors and auditors. That’s even though half the calls to the program are not about fraud, but from consumers asking how to know if something is certified-organic.
In addition to the larger budget, the National Organic Program will be releasing this summer a draft of a new enforcement rule.
“Our goal is to help you be in compliance while getting rid of bad players,” Glasgow said.
Program staff doesn’t prosecute fraudulent acts; only law enforcement can do that. What the program can do is remove a farmer’s certification if there’s specific information about the incident. Staff works with the certifier to prove or disprove any concerns.
Things that can alert an inspector or auditor to fraud are the size of the farm, business or certifier as well as the complexity of the organic business – such as the use of multiple locations. The compliance department looks for regions of the world that have a history of non-compliance. Glasgow said more than 275 producers in the Black Sea region have been removed from organic certification. In those cases satellite images and historical weather maps were used to determine if organic-farmer yield was suspiciously great and warranted closer inspection.
Harriet Behar is the organic outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a member of the National Organic Standards Board.
“As an organic inspector, every fraud I’ve found was tracking acres,” she said.
She then asked for the return of transaction certificates, which provide a document trail for commodities every time they change ownership. In the past transaction certificates took too long to be effective so they were eliminated. Behar said with current technology that should no longer be a factor.
Gary Zimmer from Midwestern BioAg said another problem area is dual operations. They should be red-flagged, he said, because it’s too easy for producers with both organic and conventional systems to move their commodities and animals from one farm to another.
Glasgow said catching offenders isn’t easy. They must be caught in the act of fraud. A new rule will require brokers to be certified, allowing an unbroken documentation trail for commodities. Farmers, consumers and certifiers will be able to comment on the proposed rules.
Visit mosesorganic.org and www.midwesternbioag.com and www.uworganic.wisc.edu/ograin and www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program and www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/organic/nosb for more information.