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Farmer Pleads Guilty in Claiming Grain Was Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, December 9, 2009) A Texas farmer, Basilio Coronado, of Sel-Cor Bean and Pea, Inc., in Brownfield, pleaded guilty to one count of false statements and documents relating to his source of organic commodities. Mr. Coronado admitted he was purchasing and selling large quantities of conventional grain, beans, and peas and falsely claiming they were grown under organic methods in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act. Advocates say that enforcement actions such as this and another to decertify as organic the Promiseland livestock operation last week are critical to ensuring the integrity of the organic label.

On November 24, Mr. Coronado, owner of Sel-Cor Bean and Pea Inc. pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Sam R. Cummings who ordered a pre-sentence investigation with a sentencing date to be set after that report is completed. Mr. Coronado ran and managed the operations of Sel-Cor and was responsible for purchasing and selling organic products and maintaining records related to the purchase and sale of organic products.

During an investigation by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) in late June 2008, Mr. Coronado furnished the TDA investigator with several false documents and statements relating to his source of organic commodities. These documents and statements were false in representing Sel-Cor as purchasing and selling large quantities of organic grain, beans, and peas, when, in fact, the products were not organic. Those documents included:

1) a document stating that Sel-Cor sold Edison Grain 1,187,000 pounds of organic milo in 2005, and 2,481,470 pounds of organic milo in 2006, when as Coronado well knew, only approximately 351,490 pounds of the milo sold by Sel-Cor to Edison Grain during 2005 and 2006 was actually organic;

2) a document stating that during 2005, Sel-Cor purchased from Houston Wall, in Causey, New Mexico, 1,144,380 pounds of organic milo, 396,120 pounds of organic pinto beans, and 60,410 pounds of organic garbanzo beans, when as Coronado well knew, in 2005, Sel-Cor had only purchased approximately 351,490 pounds of organic milo, and did not purchase any organic pinto beans or organic garbanzo beans;

3) a document entitled “New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission Certified Organic Product List,” which stated that Wall Farms, operated by Houston Wall, in Causey, New Mexico, was certified by the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission as a producer of organic peas and beans during the time of September 1, 2005, through September 1, 2006, when as Coronado well knew, Houston Wall and Wall Farms were not certified producers of those crops during that time period; and

4) a false statement that the pinto beans being shipped to American Health and Nutrition were organic beans purchased from Houston Wall, Causey, New Mexico.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Sel-Cor cleaned, bagged and shipped conventional and organic produce. The company also negotiated the purchase and sale of various types of produce grown in Texas and New Mexico. Sel-Cor, registered as an organic distributor by the TDA, was authorized to represent products it distributed as organic if the products complied with all the National Organic Standards related to production and handling of organic products.

Organic food products are grown without synthetic pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, hormones, fertilizers or other synthetic or toxic substances for a three-year minimum. The food product may only contain organically produced ingredients, and no artificial flavors or colors can be included.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with assistance from the FBI and the TDA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven M. Sucsy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Lubbock is prosecuting.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice News release


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