Just exactly where does the flour for that organic bread you’ve been making your sandwiches with come from? And are the standards there the same as they are in the United States? I’ve written before that even USDA organic standards are pretty low for anyone looking for the healthiest food. Now American organic farmers are facing a wave of competition from places like Turkey and Ukraine, from which so-called organic grains are pouring in to meet American demand. Jacob Bunge writes in The Wall Street Journal that American farmers are calling the looser standards on overseas organics unfair.
Some organic farmers in the U.S. contend that overseas organic farms benefit from looser oversight, giving them an edge over domestic farms. They point to past failures among foreign-based organic operations in following U.S. organic standards, and occasional cases of fraud. Now U.S. groups want U.S. authorities to step up scrutiny of organic operations in Turkey and other Eastern European countries, and provide more support for U.S. organic farmers.
“What we’re after is a fair shake,” said John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing Inc., a Minnesota-based organic-farming cooperative, which has filed complaints with the USDA over the matter. USDA officials say that all organic operations are held to the same standards, but the agency is investigating the complaints and discussing new requirements to tighten oversight.
Nate Lewis, farm policy director for the Organic Trade Association, representing U.S. organic-food companies and farmers, said the group has “confidence in the USDA’s system.” Still it urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture last July to require all organic imports to include certificates that allow the crops to be traced back to the overseas farms where they were grown, beyond the firm that bought and transported the crops.
Miles McEvoy, deputy administrator in charge of the USDA’s organic program, said the agency plans to propose a rule that would require such certificates for all organic imports. With the rise of organic grain production in Eastern Europe, he said the USDA is stepping up scrutiny of the region, sending an auditor to Ukraine in the fall and a team to Turkey this winter.
Organic-farming groups say those moves are long overdue, pointing to previous reports of organic fraud in Eastern Europe. In January 2016, the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service noted reports of “fraud or unapproved production methods” in organic products shipped from Turkey, which were documented by European and U.S. groups in 2012, 2013 and 2015. “There have also been instances where a few Turkish companies were found to have been using fraudulent organic certificates,” USDA officials wrote.
Read more here.