How 36 Million Pounds of Fake-Organic Food Ended Up in the U.S.
A new report reveals how easy the organic label is to fake.
36 million pounds of soybeans, which originated in the Ukraine and Turkey were priced like regular soybeans, and fumigated with pesticides, but by the time they reached California, they had been labeled as organic – boosting their value by $4 million.
Millions more pounds of corn, which the Post says makes up a large proportion our supply, was discovered to have undone the same mysterious process. They found at the Romanian company that provided the corn is not certified organic, and originally purchased the corn from a supplier – also not certified organic – at prices usually seen on it’s conventional counterpart.
The fraudulent shipments of corn and soybeans that the Post uncovered all originated in Turkey, which is supposedly one of America's largest suppliers of organic foods.
Eventually the soybean shipment in question was tested for pesticides, but by then, 21 million pounds of the 36 million-pound shipment had already been distributed to farms and mills.
Most of that corn and soy ended up in animal feed, but organic meat and dairy products that are labeled as such are supposed to only be produced from animals that have been fed organic products.
The USDA claims that their safeguards against this type of food fraud are strong, explaining that any organic product must verify its status by producing a “USDA organic certificate.” Still, companies are not required to track their products all the way to the farm of origin, leaving a gap open in the process.
Farmers can also hire inspection companies on their own and schedule inspections in advance and with warning, meaning there’s plenty of opportunity to cover up any evidence that their production process isn’t organic.
There’s plenty of incentive to game the system: Organic products sell for twice as much as non-organic versions.
“The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high," John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing, told the Post.
Products coming from China are even more susceptible to being mislabeled: A German inspection agency called Ceres which tests so-called organic products imported from China found that 37% of the 232 samples showed pesticide residue.
But not even those results can be trusted.
“The certifying agencies can choose who and when they test," said Mischa Popoff, a former USDA organic inspector. "That's why the results they can get are completely arbitrary."
These lax standards may seem shocking for people who think that the U.S. has built barriers to prevent this type of food fraud, but the USDA still has some gaps, which clearly can be exploited. In the meantime, if you need brushing up on how to combat food fraud in your home, check out our easy guide.