Department of Agriculture Overlooks Chinese Organic Food Violations
China just admitted to being in violation of American law on organic production, but no one on this side of the Pacific seems to care.
We have all seen photos of algae blooms on China’s beaches. The blooms are caused by excess synthetic fertilizer that runs off into the ocean where it makes algae grow like they are on steroids. According to Pang Shaojun, a researcher at the Ocean University of China, quoted in China Daily, “Since 2008 we have developed quality algae fertilizers for fruit trees, vegetables, organic agriculture and urban gardening.”
But, Section §205.203 of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) -- which applies to organic crops grown anywhere in the world that are shipped to the United States -- stipulates that, “The producer must not use: Any fertilizer or composted plant that contains a synthetic substance not included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.” Synthetic fertilizer does not appear on this list. Composted algae are therefore not allowed in organic production.
Sadly for consumers who spend their hard-earned money on organic food, Miles V. McEvoy, the Deputy Administrator of the USDA’s NOP, has yet to provide comments on this gross violation of the laws he is charged with upholding, in spite of repeated attempts to contact his office. And while it is one thing when a bloated federal bureaucracy fails to react to a flagrant violation like this, “grassroots” groups that claim to protect organic integrity also have no comment, and focus instead on relatively minor issues.
Take for instance the “Organic Labeling Misrepresentation Update” recently announced by the Cornucopia Institute. In a brief, anonymous statement, Cornucopia concedes that the “vast preponderance of products” sold by Organic Avenue -- a New-York based organic-juice outlet -- “appear to qualify for organic labeling,” and, as such, “we are removing the company as a formal target of investigation.” The situation described above in China meanwhile is not even mentioned on Cornucopia’s site in spite of repeated attempts to bring this to the attention of Cornucopia’s founder Mark Kastel.
This means one of the organic industry’s biggest watchdogs wasted time and energy going after Organic Avenue just because “a minority of products they sell are not organic,” something which is, in point of fact, allowed under American law since it’s next to impossible for retail outlets to be 100 percent organic.
Even the publicly-traded leviathan Whole Foods is not 100 percent organic. And still, Kastel’s team of “crack” investigators at Cornucopia say they will be continuing their “dialogue” with Organic Avenue in order to address “the last few areas of concern,” not specifying what these areas are exactly. Perhaps a hefty donation to Cornucopia (tax deductible of course) will set everything straight and allow this little juice company to get back to serving its customers.
Meanwhile, in what Cornucopia refers to as The Organic Watergate, Kastel routinely accuses the people who run the USDA NOP of being corrupt for even having “the National List of synthetic substances” which allows for a limited number of synthetics to be used in organic production when no natural alternative is available. And yet it’s fine if the People’s Republic flouts American law by using prohibited, synthetic fertilizer across the board in its organic agriculture. Ironically, it was the rejection of synthetic fertilizer that gave rise to the whole organic movement back in the 1920s long before pesticides, food additives and genetic engineering were even dreamed of.
In another case of completely missing the point, The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is calling for a boycott of Safeway’s “O” Organics brand to force Safeway to withdraw from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an industry group opposed to Washington State’s ballot initiative to require labeling of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMO). Safeway already has a perfectly good label informing consumers which foods in their store are GMO-free: it’s their O Organics brand! And they came up with it all on their own without government or the OCA forcing them to do so.
But OCA isn’t satisfied with one of America’s top grocery chains supporting the organic industry. It’s not only demanding that Safeway withdraw from GMA, but contribute financially to OCA’s anti-GMO ballot initiative! This is blackmail plain and simple; blackmail which the rest of GMA’s 299 members are thus far excused from, kind of like when a pack of hyenas separates a single victim out from the rest of the herd before going in for the kill. Yeah… how grassrootsy of OCA.
Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the OCA and one of America’s all-time most-successful organic “grassroots” blackmailers, ignored repeated attempts to reach him before this story was posted. Meanwhile, for all Ronnie and his “gang” at OCA knows, ALL of China’s “organic” agriculture has been in flagrant violation of America’s organic standards since 2008, the year Shaojun admits his country started using composted algae, along with God-knows what other prohibited practices. And yet, OCA, like Cornucopia, continues to fire its ammunition almost exclusively within America’s borders.
OCA, Cornucopia, along with the offices of the USDA NOP, are also ignoring the rather troubling issue of fecal matter entering the American organic food chain due to the lack of field testing. A fecal coliform test costs just $20, but the USDA currently does not require its agents to perform such tests on organic crops anywhere in the world. So there’s no way to ensure USDA-certified-organic crops aren’t being fertilized with improperly-composted manure, or worse, with human waste. Are Ronnie Cummins, Mark Kastel and Miles McEvoy okay with this? Read on…
As a direct result of this lack of field testing, a hepatitis-A-outbreak has occurred in USDA-certified-organic Turkish pomegranate seeds sold by Costco. 153 people across 8 states have fallen ill; 66 are in hospital. But instead of pushing the USDA to start observing a simple testing rule that’s been on its books since 2002, OCA and Cornucopia would actually have consumers believe record-keeping and occasional spot-testing (just 5 percent of the time, never on foreign crops), will suffice to keep us safe. The evidence suggests otherwise: see here, here, here, here and here.
Organic field testing will cost one-tenth what the current system costs. It will save American organic farmers the time they currently waste filling out paperwork; roughly 15 hours a week. It will also help little American companies like Organic Avenue avoid shakedowns by organic watchdog groups, and will protect American organic farmers from becoming minority players in their own market as a result of lower overseas labor and land costs. But OCA, Cornucopia, and even the offices of the USDA NOP aren’t interested.
These cases from China and Turkey really take the organic cake! It’s time for fake and fraudulent organic farming to come to an end. Tax-sheltered American organic activist groups like OCA and Cornucopia, along with tax-funded bureaucracies like McEvoy’s USDA NOP, must change their tune and get themselves right with American farmers and consumers. Otherwise, they will effectively undermine what it means to be organic.
Mischa Popoff is a former organic farmer and Advanced Organic Farm and Process Inspector. He’s a Policy Advisor for The Heartland Institute and is the author of Is it Organic? which you can preview at www.isitorganic.ca.