(Beyond Pesticides, August 12, 2008) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) announced August 5, 2008 that 15 of the 30 accredited organic certifiers it recently inspected failed the USDA audit and will have 12 months to make corrections or lose their accreditation with NOP. The non-profit Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is calling for an NOP â€śPeer Review Panelâ€ť to evaluate its adherence to its accreditation procedures and its accreditation decisions. Show your support for strong organic certification procedures by signing the OCA petitionÂ below.
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. However, OCA points out that Quality Assurance International (QAI), the largest organic certifier in the world, is not cited by the USDA, even though OCA recently reviewed documents that indicate that QAI is indeed under investigation by NOP.
QAI has recently been in the news for sourcing ginger, contaminated with the highly toxic and restricted insecticide, 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, which in turn supply Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway, and other organic private label organic milk.
Certifiers that failed a 2007 USDA audit and had to take corrective actions include: Marin County, Hawaii Organic Farmers Association, Idaho State Department of Agriculture, Indiana Certified Organic, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Baystate Organic Certifiers, Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, International Certification Services, Global Organic Alliance, Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Administration, OCPP/Pro-Cert Canada, BCS-Oeko Garantie GmbH, ECOCERT S.A., and IMO.
While consumers might consider some of USDAâ€™s violations minor, such as a farmer not reporting changes in an organic farm plan (even if the changes did not violate organic farming practices), Beyond Pesticides believes it is still imperative that the organic law is followed so that organic standards remain meaningful and public confidence in the organic seal remains strong.
For six years, OCA and the organic community have called upon 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 and police violations of organic standards on the part of producers, importers, and certifiers. As the USDA has said, “The National Organic Standards call for the Administrator of USDAâ€™s Agricultural Marketing Service to appoint members of a Peer Review Panel to evaluate NOPâ€™s adherence to its accreditation procedures and its accreditation decisions.”
For more information, see Beyond Pesticides Organic Food program page.
Petition to the National Organic Program
We, the undersigned, are calling on the National Organic Program (NOP) to implement the Peer Review Panel.
After 40 years of hard work, the U.S. organic community has built up a healthy, sustainable, and equitable multi-billion dollar alternative to energy and chemical-intensive industrial agriculture. Now a number of large so-called “organic” corporations and foreign importers, aided and abetted by unscrupulous certifiers and their sub-contractors, are violating the letter and the spirit of organic integrity, allowing factory farm production and bogus, at times toxic, “organic” imports from countries like China to degrade the “USDA Organic” label.
As you yourselves at the NOP have admitted on your website for the past six years, “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 NOP’s adherence to its accreditation procedures and its accreditation decisions.” It’s time for the USDA National Organic Program to stop dragging its heels and begin the legally required public process to set up an accountable and transparent organic community “Peer Review Panel.”
We obviously need this Safeguard Organic Standards Panel more than ever so that can we can start helping the NOP (obviously under funded and understaffed with a meager annual budget to police a giant industry) carry out its important task of monitoring and policing organic producers, importers, and certifiers.