Strengthen organic enforcement

01/10/2014 10:26:00 AM
The Packer Editorial Board

USDA Organic SealThe U.S. Department of Agriculture has sole enforcement of the country’s organic food industry, a California court reaffirmed, which is good news.

The state’s Court of Appeals ruled consumers don’t have the right to sue producers for violations of the Organic Foods Protection Act

Consumers need to know the USDA’s National Organic Program runs a fair and equal certification system and punishes violators.

A program spokesman said the USDA takes action against farmers and businesses who violate the law, and it investigates each complaint.

That is the right thing to say, but the produce industry needs to keep a close eye on the NOP’s enforcement.

Just over a year ago, in high profile cases, two California fertilizer sellers were sentenced to multi-million dollar fines and jail time for defrauding consumers with non-organic product labeled as organic.

The problem was that the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which oversaw the NOP, took far too long to remove the illegal product from the market, was too quiet about catching the violators, and then was too lenient early in the enforcement phase.

It should set an example for future fraudsters and made it clear to consumers that it takes enforcement seriously.

The year-over-year growth that organic food producers see is impressive but it’s not guaranteed to continue indefinitely, and violating consumers’ confidence is the fastest way to see that growth end.

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