Organic Food Inspectors Stung By USDA

If food at the supermarket is labeled as organic, most of us trust that it’s organic, but it can be difficult to know for sure.

Organic food is supposed to be certified as such by independent organizations accredited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But recently one of these organizations was in fact accused by government officials of not being entirely impartial.

Auditors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program found that some inspectors from the Organic Crop Improvement Association were linked to the Chinese government, and were responsible for inspecting supposedly organic food imported from China. This posed a conflict of interest, the USDA said.

If produce labeled organic was actually found to contain chemicals that aren’t allowed in organic production, for instance, local organic inspectors could just let the produce pass inspection for the sake of making a sale. The USDA has not said that OCIA improperly certified organics that actually entered the U.S. market, however.

As a result of these OCIA inspectors being linked to the Chinese government, the OCIA has agreed not to operate in China, and the USDA’s organic program will increase its oversight of organic operations and those who certify food as organic there.

In one year, the OCIA will be able to apply to be re-accredited to certify Chinese organic foods on the condition that it doesn’t hire new inspectors affiliated with the Chinese government, the USDA says. It’s worth noting, however, that the OCIA is a non-profit group founded by organic producers themselves.

The U.S. National Organic Program is increasing oversight of organic certification in countries that export foods to the U.S., the USDA adds.

Do you make it a point to buy the greenest products you can afford? Read MainStreet’s story on green product labeling to help guide your eco-friendly shopping decisions.