(UPDATED COVERAGE, June 21)A bipartisan bill — the Organic Standards Protection Act — introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture more power to crack down on organic fraud.
Reps. Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., sponsored the bill.
Capps, whose congressional district covers part of California’s Central Coast and includes at least 130 organic growers, said the need for additional enforcement authority was brought to her attention by the California Farm Bureau.
As consumer demand for organic food increases, the need to protect the integrity of the USDA’s National Organic Program increases, Hanna said.
“USDA has some tools, but they need more, such as subpoena power,” Capps said.
Three key provisions of the bill would:
- Give the USDA authority to stop the sale of products fraudulently labeled as organic;
- Require organic producers and certifiers to maintain records for the USDA to improve investigations and enforcement; and
- Establish a fine of up to $10,000 for each violation of a USDA revocation of certification.
A recent report from the USDA’s Office of Inspector General stated the USDA’s lack of investigative authority has hampered efforts at the National Organic Program to enforce certification requirements.
NOP officials declined to comment on the pending legislation.
Cathy Calfo, executive director of California Certified Organic Farmers, said desperately needed enhanced enforcement provisions are the heart of the legislation.
“States and third-party certifiers don’t have subpoena power,” Calfo said. “Our goal is that everyone is playing by the same rules and this legislation will help ensure that.”
Other organic organizations are supporting the bill, but officials with the Organic Trade Association did not respond to requests for comments.
The legislation includes an appeal process for those facing decertification. It also contains a clause that would prohibit USDA or NOP from releasing information required by the recordkeeping sections of the bill, unless the confidentiality of “the identity of persons, including parties to a contract, and proprietary business information” was protected.