As many readers of The Packer may well know, Mischa Popoff’s credibility regarding organic agriculture has been questioned for some time.
It is evident he is still attempting to plant doubt in the public perception of organic products. I would like to address the blatant inaccuracies Popoff expressed in his Sept. 19 opinion column.
Organic buyers are the segment of the population most likely to link fresh fruits and vegetables, organic or not, to a healthy lifestyle. The organic consumer is also the core consumer of fruits and vegetables.
The produce industry will cut to the heart of its consumer base by paying any heed to Popoff’s campaign of misinformation.
Instead, all of us committed to growing the consumption of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables should listen and learn from consumers and their choices.
Here are the facts.
Organic production is the only system that uses third-party inspection and certification to verify that no toxic and persistent pesticides or synthetic fertilizers have been used.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program conducts on-site audits of 100% of accredited certifiers. It is the only federal agency regulating food that conducts 100% inspections.
Every USDA-accredited certification agency inspects each certified operation annually. The inspection is on-site and reviews every component of the operation:
u The farm inspector inspects fields, seed sources, soil conditions, crop health, weed and pest management, water systems (for irrigation and post-harvest handling), storage areas, inputs, record-keeping, harvest and sales information, contamination and commingling risks and prevention and equipment.
u The livestock inspector inspects feed production and purchase records, feed rations, animal living conditions, production and sales information, preventive health care management practices, health records and overall animal health condition, and contamination and commingling risks and prevention measures.
u The handler or processing inspector inspects the facility and evaluates the receiving, processing, and storage areas.
The inspector assesses procedures to prevent contamination from prohibited substances and to prevent commingling with non-organic ingredients.
Organic certifiers do, in fact, currently conduct unannounced inspections on a portion of all their clients each year. ISO 65 accredited certifiers are required to conduct unannounced inspections.
Certifiers currently conduct testing for pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics and other prohibited substances when contamination is suspected or when a complaint is received.
New rule possible
While the standards largely focus on the verification of procedures (process-based), testing is a tool used regularly to validate contamination prevention measures and/or to address complaints and reported contamination.
NOP has recently released a proposed rule that will require certifiers to annually conduct residue testing on 5% of their certified operations.
The required testing will be in addition to testing already conducted when contamination is suspected or complaints are received.
The final rule will clarify the required testing provision in the Organic Foods Production Act. The final rule is expected late this year.
Inspections are objective and transparent. A copy of the inspection report is provided to the operator along with the certification decision.
The certifier, including the inspector, must not hold a commercial interest in the business being inspected, or provide paid consulting services, accept gifts, favors, or payments other than the prescribed inspection fee.
An inspector cannot serve as an adviser or consultant, and may not recommend specific products, practices, animal or plant varieties, or give advice for overcoming identified barriers to certification.
The term “organic” is federally regulated. Anyone making an organic claim is legally liable.
A civil penalty of up to $11,000 for each offense can be levied on any person who knowingly sells or labels an organic product that is not produced in accordance with NOP regulations.
Consumers purchasing organic fruits, vegetables and other products can be assured that these products not only carry the most regulated food label available, but are the gold standard for those wishing to avoid produce containing pesticide residues.
Given the facts, you can surely understand our shock at such disinformation from one individual spread in an attempt to undermine an entire growing industry.
Christine Bushway is executive director and chief executive officer of the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association, the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America.
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