discovered by the Belgian affiliate of the French certification agency
Ecocert. One of the latest cases involved an approved fertilizer used by
many Californian organic farmers. Turns out that the fertilizer, manufactured by California Liquid Fertilizers and appropriately dubbed “
Bi-olyzer,” was spiked with ammonium sulfate, a synthetic fertilizer
banned in organic agriculture. The organic certification body involved, CCOF, is now requiring manufacturers of liquid fertilizers to
“T“There is a clear customer expectation that
organic products are ‘purer’ and certainly not
obtain third-party onsite inspections by August 15, 2009. They must
also provide documentation that proves the fertilizer inputs purchased
and received by the company are sufficient to produce the volume of
liquid fertilizers sold by the manufacturer.
Another case of fraud became well publicized when ABC News
aired a story on products of Chinese origin in Whole Foods Markets.
ABC had Whole Foods’ ginger tested and it was found to contain
Aldicarb, a persistent, highly toxic carbamate insecticide. Whole Foods
immediately pulled the batch of ginger powder in question, however,
this case fed into the public discussion of the safety of Chinese imports.
While documented cases of fraud are relatively few in comparison
to the total amount of organic production and imports, nevertheless,
there is a clear customer expectation that organic products are
“purer” and certainly not contaminated with pesticides or grown in violation of organic rules.
Additionally, no quantities are required to be indicated on the organic
certificate. While there is an obvious
reason for this—yields oscillate due to
many factors—it creates uncertainty,
especially with imports. Also, while
the organic regulations require a lot
number indicating the exact date and
time of the production, there is no requirement that all shipping documents, such as waybills, airbills or bills
of lading, clearly indicate the organic
nature of the product. This can lead
to questions in the document trail.
One last issue with the organic regulation is that, as opposed to organic
regulations in other countries, the
USDA standards require certification
agencies to bear the cost of chemical
analyses of a certified producer, even
when there is evidence that a producer has violated the rule. Since the
cost of analyses can run high, this can
create a problem especially for
Organic Inspection and Certification:
Strengths and Weaknesses
While organic inspection and certification is an absolutely integral
and necessary tool of securing and maintaining the organic integrity
of ingredients and products in general, in many cases it alone is not
sufficient to guard against product contamination. For one thing, organic inspection takes place only once a year, and risk-reduction methods need to be practiced on a much more regular basis. Plus, as shown
in the peanut butter incident, the organic regulation doesn’t take the
place of ensuring health guidelines are met or testing for pathogens
or other contamination. These are steps that organic companies must
do in addition to certification.
Secondly, a few areas of the organic regulation are a bit vague. For
one, an organic certificate doesn’t have an exact expiration date. This
creates confusion about the validity of some certificates, and because
of this many wise buyers require additional documentation such as inspection reports to clarify the validity. Many certifiers have also remedied that situation by adding the date of the last inspection or other
clarifying remarks to the certificate.
Looking at factors that have led to
issues in the past, it’s possible to identify several risks in ingredient sourcing as detailed below.
Origin-related Risks. These are
risks specific to certain countries. First
and foremost, fast growth of organic
acreage, and hence production, is a
risk factor. This is compounded when
this growth is combined with non-ex-isting domestic organic production,
and consequently little or no social
control by other farmers with more
organic experience, minimal or no
public discussion about organic practices, and an absence of well-developed organizations contributing to
continuous development and the upholding of the organic regulations.
In the ‘90s, Argentina was considered such a case. It was probably the
first country to foster organic production almost solely for export reasons.
Lately, China has become the poster
child for this role, with many pointing