Editor’s Note: Mischa Popoff is an IOIA Advanced Organic Inspector and is the author of Is it Organic? which you can preview at www.isitorganic.ca. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mischa Popoff.
Meet the most powerful figure in the global organic industrial-complex: Miles McEvoy, Obama’s Deputy Administrator (DA) of the National Organic Program (NOP) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As the DA of all things organic in the largest organic market in the world, McEvoy promises to do something unprecedented at a national level: to begin unannounced field testing to ensure prohibited substances are not being used.
That was a year-and-a-half ago. We’re still waiting.
Despite what most people believe, field testing to ensure the integrity of certified-organic crops and livestock does not occur. Organic certification is granted under a complicated bureaucratic system of record-keeping. That’s it. This leaves the door wide open to fraud, as well as gross overstatements and misleading marketing campaigns that claim organic foods provide a safer, more nutritious alternative for concerned consumers.
Until McEvoy makes good on field testing, it remains impossible to know which farmers are actually following the rules and which organic foods actually provide a nutritional benefit. And, since every dollar reeled in by the purveyors of organic food -- whether through subsidy or the free market -- comes at the expense of the organic industry’s competition, this lack of basic testing impacts literally everyone who produces food. Thus, in the interest of fairness, it behooves McEvoy to finally implement what President Clinton and the American Consumers Union (ACU) wanted way back in 1997 when the NOP was launched.
One need only look to the Chinese agricultural system to get an idea of the potential for organic fraud. At one point the FDA’s rejection rate for all Chinese food imports was 25 times higher than that for Canada. With premiums of 100% or more for “organic” products, how confident are you that no one in China has ever exploited the USDA’s honor-based organic certification system?
Even an optimist won’t be surprised to learn the ACU found “that 25% of the organic foods we tested contained traces of pesticide not sanctioned for use by any private or state organic certification program.” No wonder the ACU joined Clinton in demanding field testing.
One wonders if McEvoy thinks cases like these might be something he should concern himself with as the organic industry approaches the $30 billion per annum mark.
China ships nearly 100% of its “organic” produce to the United States. And until they develop their own corrupt organic-certification bureaucracy, they will piggyback on the American certification system with the USDA’s full approval, all without a single field test or surprise inspection, just paperwork. Thus, everything labeled “organic” from China carries the USDA’s good name, almost as if it was produced right here in the USA. Feeling reassured yet?
Even without all the alarming statistics about tainted “organic” imports, field testing is obviously overdue. If the Chinese can cheat, anyone can cheat. And yet, McEvoy is three years into his term and has yet to implement organic field testing.
In fact, rather than follow through, McEvoy instead promotes "forward thinking" organic programs at places like Washington State University. But why promote college courses while the perfectly sound, scientific concept of field testing sits quietly on the backburner? Is it just too difficult to send a single-page directive to the organic industry?
The NOP doesn’t even need new staff to accomplish field testing. It would be handled by the for-profit, private certifiers who are currently overseen by McEvoy. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s drive the organic fraudsters—whether from China or from within the US—out of town and make our food supply safer.
But instead, we wait, while organic charlatans get rich. Worse still, urban organic activists continue to spread misinformation about conventional (sometimes referred to as “industrial” or “Big Agri”) food production. This will be the topic for the next column in this series.
Real, sweeping reforms could be implemented overnight. McEvoy should act now. It is way past time put an end to the organic food scam.