USDA Organic: Following Audit, Spot Tests Promised

USDA Organic: Following Audit, Spot Tests Promised

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Emily Han
Mar 22, 2010

How well do you trust the U.S. Agriculture Department's enforcement of federal organic standards?

In news that might be shocking to some and long suspected by others, last week the agency revealed that it had failed in some areas of monitoring of the National Organic Program. The USDA also said it would begin enforcing required spot testing of organically grown foods.

As reported by the New York Times, the USDA's inspector general conducted an audit and found that the National Organic Program took delayed and sometimes inadequate action to enforce standards. For example:

They never took action against one company accused of improperly selling mint using USDA's organic label, according to the audit, while another company kept marketing its products as organic after signing an agreement saying that it would stop ... Auditors also found a lack of standard enforcement practices, according to the report. When they monitored four officials responsible for certifying organic foods, none of the four tested products for residues – such as pesticides – that might disqualify them from an organic certification.

How does the agency plan to improve its oversight? Spot testing organically grown foods is one action promised. According to the New York Times, spot testing for pesticides has been required by law since 1990 but not systematically carried out.

The head of the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, said on Friday that enforcing testing rules was one of several steps the agency was taking to improve oversight of the industry. It will also require unannounced inspections of organic producers and processors and start regular reviews of organic products in stores to make sure they are correctly labeled and meet federal regulations, he said.

Testing is expected to begin this fall.

Read more at the New York Times:
USDA's Organic Enforcers Let Offenders Slide, Audit Says (includes a link to the report)
U.S. Plans Spot Tests of Organic Products

Related: Green or Not: Big Organic?

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