(Feb. 10, 1:05 p.m.) The tumult in California’s organic produce industry over sales of tainted fertilizer has had its day in the Sacramento spotlight.
Members of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture spent four hours Feb. 3 hearing from growers, suppliers, certifiers and state officials. While there were some pointed questions from the senators, the emphasis of the hearing was to solicit information, said a spokeswoman for Sen. Abel Maldonado, a member of the committee.
“Nothing was presented for a vote,” she said. “The committee is just trying to come up with new ways to ensure there will not be a repeat of tainted fertilizer sales.”
The state’s organic produce community is on alert in the wake of revelations that one supplier sold fertilizer spiked with synthetic compounds for several years. Three weeks after those reports surfaced, federal agents raided another California supplier who may be suspected of selling a similar product.
The National Organics Program bans the use of synthetic compounds.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is supporting legislation that would make the sale of tainted fertilizer as organic a felony, Deputy Secretary Rayne Pegg said. Violating current law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of no more than $500 per violation. That could change soon.
Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, whose district includes portions of the Salinas Valley, is working on language, said Angela Mapp, a member of Caballero’s staff.
“It’s still a work in progress, but it would put more teeth in the CDFA’s enforcement authority,” she said.
In addition to making the violation a felony, the proposed bill would increase fines. The figure of $5,000 has been discussed, Mapp said. Also being considered, she said, is including supplier fees to pay for CDFA inspections, another position supported by the state agency.
“We look forward to working with the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee to strengthen CDFA’s oversight to go after organic fertilizer manufacturers that are found spiking supposed organic product with nonorganic ingredients,” said Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the department.
Lyle said the CDFA is working with Caballero in drafting her proposed bill.
Not all of the committee’s members are convinced the legislature must taken action. Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, noting that the organic industry has a reputation for self-regulation, said it is up to organic growers to take the lead on reforms, because they have the most at stake if consumers lose confidence in organic labels.