The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program (NOP) announced August 5 that 15 of the 30 accredited organic certifiers they recently inspected failed the USDA audit and will have 12 months to make corrections or lose their accreditation with the NOP. Although the USDA euphemistically calls their enforcement actions "renewal pending subsequent audit," it is clear that there are numerous violations of organic standards taking place in the U.S. and across the world. A number of the violations noted in the several hundred page audit related to Chinese imports certified by the French-based organic certifier Ecocert and other certifiers.
Strangely enough, Quality Assurance International (QAI), the largest organic certifier in the world, is not cited by the USDA, even though the Organic Consumers Association OCA has recently reviewed documents that indicate that QAI is indeed under investigation by the NOP. QAI has recently been in the news for sourcing ginger, contaminated with a dangerous and banned pesticide, Aldicarb, from its Chinese certification sub-contractors and then labeling it as "USDA Organic." QAI is also under public fire, along with other certifiers, for certifying factory farm feedlot dairies supplying milk to Horizon and Aurora Organic Dairy, who in turn supply Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, and other organic private label organic milk brands.
For over six years the OCA, Cornucopia Institute, the Center for Food Safety and others in the organic community have called upon the USDA to implement a "Peer Review Panel" system, as required by law in the National Organic Standards, so that respected members of the organic community can monitor the USDA National Organic Program and police violations of organic standards on the part of producers, importers, and certifiers. A 2005 ANSI (American National Standards Institute) audit of the USDA's National Organic Program found numerous problems and irregularities, according to Jim Riddle, former chair of the National Organic Standards Board.
As the USDA themselves have admitted "The National Organic Standards call for the Administrator of AMS (USDA Agricultural Marketing Service) to appoint members of a Peer Review Panel to evaluate the NOP¹s adherence to its accreditation procedures and its accreditation decisions." It's time for the USDA to stop dragging their heels and begin the public process to set up an organic community "Peer Review Panel," so can we can start policing organic standards ourselves.
To Sign the Petition to the USDA for a Peer Review Panel go here.
Ronnie Cummins is the National Director of Organic Consumers Association.