Fake ‘organic’ grain imports spur U.S. trade group to form anti-fraud task force

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The organic industry is creating an anti-fraud task force in the wake of a Washington Post report that millions of pounds of “USDA Organic” soybeans and corn imported through Turkey appear to have been fraudulent.

Organized by the Organic Trade Association, the task force would develop methods for companies to ensure that imports of organic products are actually organic.

“There is a strong desire on the part of industry to stop the incidence of fraud in organic,” said Laura Batcha, director of the association. “The consumer expects that organic products are verified back to the farm. The industry takes that contract with the consumer very seriously.”

Last month, The Post reported that three enormous shipments of “organic” corn and soybeans — large enough to constitute a meaningful proportion of the U.S. supply of those commodities — had reached the U.S.

Documents and interviews indicated that the shipments were not really organic — in fact, some had been treated with pesticides en route to the U.S. All three shipments hailed from Turkey, one of the largest exporters of organic products to the United States, according to Foreign Agricultural Service statistics. With the “USDA Organic” designation, the value of the shipments rose by millions of dollars.

The report confirmed the suspicions of many U.S. farmers, who have seen prices fall by as much as a third as the volume of imports of organic corn and soybeans have climbed rapidly in recent years.

After the story appeared, one of the nation’s largest organic inspection agencies, CCOF, issued a notice to its clients indicating that it “lacks confidence in the organic status of foreign grain.” The agency instituted rules requiring that organic grain shipments be traceable back to growers.

One of the Turkish exporters involved in the shipments described by The Post, Beyaz Agro, has been “decertified” as an organic company by the USDA.

Now comes news of the task force. Some U.S. farmers look skeptically at the effort because, they say, they have been waiting for two years for protection from cheap — and fraudulent — organic imports.