Earlier this week, Breitbart News reported that a hepatitis outbreak, traced to Turkish pomegranate seeds, had taken place partly because the White House has delayed food safety rules that would allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to monitor imported foods. Further investigation reveals that the problem goes further than the FDA: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) barely inspects foods labeled “organic.”
The two problems are related, according to a former federal food inspector, who told Breitbart News that the USDA’s standards for organic food under its National Organic Program (NOP) have become the “global standard[s] for food production,” adding that “a great deal–perhaps most–of the food the USDA certifies under the NOP is imported from backwater nations like Turkey, Brazil, China and Mexico.”
Enforcement of the USDA’s standards for organic crops are extremely lax–so much so that ten years after the NOP became law, inspectors are only beginning to test 5 percent of applicants for organic certification. A regulation published in November 2012 stated: “The final rule requires that certifying agents, on an annual basis, sample and conduct residue testing from a minimum of five percent of the operations that they certify.”
That might suggest the possibility of future outbreaks. Breitbart News contacted representatives from the POM Wonderful brand, famous for its pomegranate juices, which noted that the contamination in imported seeds had not affected its products: “POM Wonderful grows, handpicks and juices our own pomegranates from California’s San Joaquin Valley…managing the entire production process from tree to bottle.”
And yet consumers of other brands, believing labels that read, “Field to Farm to Family,” were exposed to the hepatitis outbreak because, as Michele Simon of the Huffington Post recently noted, many so-called organic “farms” merely purchase their fruit elsewhere. Consumers are doubly vulnerable–first because of the misleading labels, and second because of the lax USDA standards and absence of White House interest.
Could politics be playing a role? Is it possible that the supposedly (but not uniformly) left-leaning organic industry has managed to stave off closer regulation? Regardless, it is clear that the lack of federal funding is not the reason for the delay in food-safety monitoring that would have protected hundreds of Americans from illness. Rather, the foot-dragging of the federal bureaucracy, and the Obama White House, are to blame.
Image source: NBC San Diego/FDA