Earthbound Farm takes certification seriously

10/07/2011 11:33:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

At Earthbound Farm, we value the opinions of credible people, even when they differ from ours. 
But Mischa Popoff’s guest column (Sept. 19) on organics, riddled with factual errors, has no credibility. 
The Packer has done a disservice to its readers by choosing to run it without question, including the assertion that organic certification is a “lax bureaucracy that masquerades as oversight.” 
And while impugning the credibility of organic producers, Popoff completely ignores the benefits of organic food and farming.
As the largest grower of organic produce (and likely one of the “corporate organic farms” he refers to) in the U.S., we have the status to rebut Popoff’s portrayal of the organic industry as failing “to uphold even the most basic rules of common sense” and correct the misperceptions that his essay perpetuated.
Earthbound Farm holds the integrity of organic production as the most important aspect of our program. We have earned the trust of customers and consumers because of our rigorous organic integrity and dedication to the principles of organic farming. 
You can trust that we frequently sit across the table from our consumers and share, very transparently, what we do.
Finally, we are strong proponents of testing as a means of validating the integrity and efficacy of our production and processes in organic and food safety.
Here are some examples:
u Food safety testing: Earthbound Farm’s food safety program is unparalleled in the produce industry. We test for salmonella, non-O157 EHECs and E. coli O157:H7 on inputs, water, field, raw product and finished goods. In raw product and finished goods testing, we add shigella testing into the mix.
u Fertilizer testing: Earthbound Farm’s organic integrity program requires that all of our growers test all liquid fertilizers to ensure compliance with organic standards and food safety standards. 
Unannounced inspections and sampling of on-site fertilizer supplies ensure that tests conducted at the producer level agree with tests of the material found on farms.
u Pesticide residue testing: Earthbound Farm conducts regular spot pesticide residue testing, in addition to targeted testing if any of our unannounced organic integrity inspections raise any concerns at all.
We’re not the only ones doing this. Third-party organic certifiers currently conduct testing for pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics and other prohibited substances when contamination is suspected or when a complaint is received. 
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.
The National Organic Program has recently released a proposed rule that will require certifiers to conduct residue testing on 5% of their certified operations annually. 
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.
Organic is, indeed, one of the most highly regulated, inspected and third-party verified food terms in existence in the U.S., but even such layers of assurance cannot ensure 100% compliance. 
This is why it’s so important to choose food from producers with integrity, who merit your trust. 
If people cheat the system, with or without malicious intent, their violations should not cast doubt on an entire group of producers.
I could continue to address the inaccuracies in Popoff’s column, but this column will get long and boring. 
Suffice it to say that I have higher expectations of The Packer than to run a column like this without question, and I know that most of your readers have the common sense to question Popoff’s assertions.
Charles Sweat is chief executive officer of San Juan Bautista, Calif.-based Earthbound Farm.
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.


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Kelsi F.    
Visalia  |  October, 07, 2011 at 01:00 PM

Shame on any publication discrediting the Organic industry. My parents have and will continue to support the industry knowing what they do of the suppliersd and all the extra effort and attention put into the crops for my saftey. Our family is a strong supporter of the industry. Go Earthbound.

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  May, 04, 2012 at 06:44 PM

Dear Kelsi F.: I too am a strong supporter of the organic industry. I don't know where anyone could get the idea that I was opposed to it. I want to make it better and eliminate the fraud. Tell me, are you and your parents even aware of the amount of food from China, Mexico and Brazil that the USDA certifies? And it all goes to the store shelf to compete with the domestic, local product you and your parents produce... all without a single test to verify that it's even organic to begin with. See anything wrong with this picture? (Hint: you're killing the messenger.)

small farmer    
new york state  |  October, 08, 2011 at 07:04 PM

Kudos and Thanks to you for taking up the pen Mr. Sweat. You are correct. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about Mr. Popoff's outrageous misinformation and lies. Until he commits fraud, slander, or libel against someone willing to sue him, he will likely continue to run rampant with his dirty tricks.

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  May, 04, 2012 at 06:41 PM

I'm willing to debate anyone, anywhere, anytime on the serious problems inherent in the global-organic industry's system of certification. So, Mr. small farmer, Ms. Kelsi F., and yes you too Mr. Charles Sweat, please let me know what dates and times work for you. If what I am saying qualifies as misinformation, then please, by all means, launch your lawsuit. Otherwise, meet me in the field of open debate. Anytime...

Simon S.    
Upstate NY  |  May, 07, 2012 at 01:49 PM

What an interesting to and fro - I have no stake in this game. Mr. Sweat you note: "I could continue to address the inaccuracies in Popoff’s column, but this column will get long and boring." At what point did you actually address any point in Popoff's column which allowed you to 'continue' to address inaccuracies? Please address all Mr. Popoff's points, one-by-one (don't just wave them off with a blithe comment) as it certainly won't get long and boring, especially if it exposes the truth

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  December, 31, 2012 at 12:14 PM

This just in! By the USDA’s own admittance, “The number of results reported to the NOP in 2011 represents a sampling rate of less than 1% of certified operations.” Things go rapidly downhill from there because it turns out that “The majority of results reported to the NOP in 2011 were received from certifying agents which are headquartered outside of the United States, where periodic residue testing is a requirement under international organic standards (e.g., the EU). (See Federal Register Volume 77, Number 218, Friday, November 9, 2012, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-11-09/html/2012-27378.htm.) With this in mind, I wonder if Charles Sweat would be so kind as to let us know how many times his company has been subjected to a test. I sincerely hope that when he reassured everyone that "Earthbound Farm takes certification seriously," that Mr. Sweat was not merely referring to paperwork.

Mischa Popoff    
Osoyoos BC  |  January, 26, 2013 at 03:30 PM

Almost a whole month has gone by and still no response from Mr. Sweat. Far from being "riddled with factual errors" as he claims, it would appear that none other than the USDA itself has now come out in support of everything I said in my Sept. 19 guest column which you can read here: http://www.thepacker.com/opinion/What-you-need-to-know-about-organics-129948933.html?view=all We're waiting Mr. Sweat.

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