Bogus “organic” products may be reaching the United States because of lax enforcement at U.S. ports, according to a new audit by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, a finding that helps explain previous reports that millions of pounds of fraudulent “organic” corn and soybeans had reached American ports.
The USDA “was unable to provide reasonable assurance that … required documents were reviewed at U.S. ports of entry to verify that imported agricultural products labeled as organic were from certified organic foreign farms,” according to the report released Monday.” The lack of controls at U.S. ports of entry increases the risk that nonorganic products may be imported as organic into the United States and could create an unfair economic environment for U.S. organic producers.”
The inspector general’s report goes farther than that, revealing that the confusion at the ports is so deep that some “organic” shipments — legitimate or not — are fumigated there with pesticides prohibited under USDA organic rules.
The investigators visited seven U.S. ports and discovered, through documents and interviews, that if an organic shipment shows evidence of a pest or disease and “the shipment’s owner elects to treat the organic agricultural products, they are treated using the same methods and substances used for conventional products. There are no special treatment methods for organic products. This practice results in the exposure of organic agricultural products to prohibited substances.”
The report from the inspector general follows an admission by the USDA that several countries appear to have been exporting bogus organic products into the United States.
In May, The Washington Post reported that millions of pounds of “organic” corn and soybeans had been shipped to the United States through Turkey despite evidence that they had been grown conventionally. Subsequently, the USDA revoked the “organic” designation from two of the companies involved in importing. The agency has not completed its investigations nor publicly revealed how widespread any fraud may have been.