How much is the USDA organic seal worth?
In 2015, Consumer Reports looked at the retail premium for organic food. For fresh apples, for example the premium at retail ranged from 20% to 60%, with strawberries 33% to 100%.
A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service looked at the same issue, finding that salad mix had a 60% premium at retail compared with 44% for celery and 7% for spinach.
So while the premium is variable, the market and consumers are paying considerably more for product grown and certified according to organic standards.
It shouldn’t surprise us that some unscrupulous firms are trying to nab the premium without paying the price of actually going to trouble of certifying their operations according to the book. For some, the USDA organic seal is worth ripping off, despite the potential penalties.
The USDA has recently publicized its website where it identifies fraudulent organic certificates.
Taking a quick scan of the many firms listed, I only see a few that relate to the fresh produce trade. Many of the fraudulent certificates relate to imported processed foods and spices.
The USDA says using fraudulent documents to market, label, or sell non-organic agricultural products as organic is punishable by fines of up to $11,000 for each violation. The agency said certifying agents and organic operations should continue to guard against these practices and practice caution when purchasing products from suppliers.
It is important to keep consumer confidence in the organic seal high, because that is what the price premium for organic stands on.
The USDA advises to report complaints about suspected fraudulent certificates on their website
Check out the latest growth statistics on organic agriculture in this report from the USDA
The USDA said the 2016 count of U.S. certified organic farms and businesses reflects a 13% increase between the end of 2015 and 2016. keeping up the double digit growth in recent years. In fact, the USDA said the number of certified operations has increased since the count began in 2002 and the latest number is the highest growth rate since 2008.