Organic program steps up testing - The Packer

Organic program steps up testing

11/13/2012 10:12:00 AM
Coral Beach

USDA Certified Organic seal(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 15) Organizations that certify organic producers must conduct periodic residue tests each year on at least 5% of those farms beginning in 2013.

Additional costs — estimated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program to be about $500 per test — are supposed to be paid by the certifiers, not their clients. If certifiers pass along costs by increasing fees for all clients, the increase should be about $25 per client, according to a rule published Nov. 9 in the Federal Register.

The NOP imposed the 5% minimum because a 2010 audit by the Office of Inspector General revealed some certifiers never conducted residue testing, according to the Federal Register.

There was also confusion about whether certifiers are required to conduct periodic residue testing, according to the NOP’s comments.

“The (Office of the Inspector General) indicated that certifying agents noted that they considered residue testing to be required by the regulations only under certain circumstances,” NOP officials wrote.

California adopted residue analysis requirements in November 2010 under the State Organic Program (SOP), and state officials are pleased to see the NOP strengthen its rule.

“The SOP implemented regulations ... to facilitate the sale of organic products within California while maintaining sufficient regulatory control by means of spot inspections, investigations, and residue analysis,” said Rick Jensen, director of inspection services for the california Department of Food and Agriculture.

“The SOP looks forward to the implementation of the NOP’s periodic residue testing requirement ... to ensure that organic consumers purchase products that are in compliance with state and federal organic mandates.”

Will Daniels, Earthbound FarmDanielsOrganic growers are also applauding the new rule. Will Daniels, senior vice president of operations and organic integrity at Earthbound Farm, San Juan Batista, Calif., said increased testing will help the industry overall.

“At Earthbound Farm we believe in testing as a verification tool and the results should provide certifiers and those tested with useful information, in addition to bolstering organic integrity,” Daniels said. “Consumers want a strong organic seal and so do we.”

The Organic Foods Production Act requires certifiers to conduct periodic pre- and post-harvest residue testing, according to the notice, even if there is no apparent problem.

However, the National Organic Program received test results from only 13 certifiers in 2011, indicating tests were done at less than 1% of the 30,000 operations certified as organic that year. Six of the 13 reporting certifiers in 2011 were based outside the U.S. where tests are mandatory. According to the NOP, there are 112 certifiers recognized by the USDA to audit growers in the U.S. and other countries.

“The final rule expands the amount of residue testing … by clarifying that sampling and testing are required on a regular basis,” the notice states. “This action will help further ensure the integrity of products produced and handled under the NOP regulations.”

Based on submitted comments, the NOP officials decided to allow tests conducted for causative reasons to count toward the 5% minimum. All test results must be kept by certifiers for at least three years and must be available for public review.

However, the revised rule eliminates the requirement to report all test results. Effective Jan. 1, only results that “are in violation of (Environmental Protection Agency) or FDA requirements must be reported to the appropriate state health agency or foreign equivalent.”

The periodic testing is not limited to finished products. The revised rule states tests can be done on soil, water, waste, seeds, plant tissue and processed product samples.

Certifiers have the flexibility to test for a range of prohibited and excluded methods, including, but not limited to, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified organisms. Certifiers that handle 30 or less operations in a year are required to do periodic residue testing on at least one of the operations.



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Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC Canada  |  November, 14, 2012 at 01:07 PM

In order to prevent cheating, all testing in the organic industry must occur prior to harvest. There’s little point wasting time or money testing post-harvest. The reason is that with the exception of genetically-modified organisms, almost everything else that's prohibited in organic production dissipates and eventually becomes undetectable over time. Whether it’s herbicides, pesticides, hormones, improperly-composted manure, or the big-money-maker: synthetic nitrogen, only an unannounced inspection and field test will deter fraud and gross negligence. After all, Olympic athletes are tested before and during the games, not after. As for the cost being $500 per test, I must strenuously disagree. I performed broad-spectrum field tests on organic crops when I was an active IOIA organic inspector for as little as $125. Surely a certifier recognized by the USDA to audit organic farmers and processors will be able to get as good or better a price. On that note, instead of ADDING organic field testing to the existing system of record-keeping and record-checking - which costs upwards of $2,000 up-front per-farm - field testing should REPLACE record-keeping and record-checking, and thereby bring down the cost of organic certification. Lastly, there is still the outstanding issue of "royalties" being collected by USDA-accredited certifiers. How can we expect companies that oversee the USDA National Organic Program to be objective if they stand to collect 1-3% of a farmer's GROSS revenue from each transaction they certify? Organic field testing must be carried out by independent inspectors, not by certifiers which have a vested interest in pushing more product to market.

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