Select OTA members are trying out recommended best practices in a pilot program this summer. ( File Photo )

Eleven Organic Trade Association members — including one fresh produce company — are participating in a pilot program to deter organic fraud.

Companies involved will test out a best practices guide created by the association’s Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force.

The pilot runs from June to September, according to a news release.

“We’ve worked for a year to develop a fraud prevention program for organic, and now we need to have companies put our recommendations to the test in their everyday business activities to find the elements that have to be further developed,” Gwendolyn Wyard, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs for the OTA and staff coordinator for the task force, said in a news release.

“This pilot project is key to advancing the adoption of an industry-wide systemic approach to preserving organic integrity from the farm to the plate and to ensuring the honesty of global control systems.”

Mike Dill, food safety and compliance manager for Organically Grown Co., which distributes organic fresh produce to retailers and restaurants in the Pacific Northwest, said the best practices being tested focus on assessing risk.

Risk varies based on the commodity, the growing region, the route the product travels, and other factors.

“You need to know that supply chain so you know it was handled properly from the source all the way through the supply chain,” Dill said.

Each company participating in the pilot will focus on specific items.

Rebecca Willows, senior compliance specialist and pricing control for Organically Grown Co., will be tracking pineapples, berries and likely a vegetable.

Willows said pineapple is a good candidate for the pilot because it is an import item that often goes through multiple handlers, and as a bulk item it is not labeled the way a packaged product would be.

Berries are another ideal product for the pilot due to the growth in the category and the relatively strong price point, because the potential for fraud is always higher when prices are higher, Willows said.

At the end of the pilot program, participating companies will make recommendations, and results will be collected in September, Willows said.

The goal is to finish revisions in October to submit for the fall National Organic Standards Board meeting. If approved, the best practices would be implemented in November.

Dill applauded the OTA’s efforts to crack down on the relatively small amount of organic fraud that goes on.

“If we can take these best practices and pass them down the supply chain, I think everyone benefits,” Dill said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, the Accredited Certifiers Association and NSF International are collaborating on the pilot, according to the release.

They will provide feedback on the recommended best practices and support implementation.

The National Organic Program has also been working on ways to ensure the integrity of organic products.

Those efforts include increasing collaboration with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Customs and Border Protection; encouraging increased reporting to the Organic Integrity Database by certifiers to improve data quality; and increasing reporting of enforcement actions. P

Those are a few of the changes that began in 2018, according to the Organic Oversight and Enforcement Summary of Activities and Overview Action Plan released in May.

Other practices include increasing use of risk assessment when processing complaints so resources are invested in the most important areas. The National Organic Program has also been increasing the number of inspections at complex organic businesses, according to the report.