The USDA organic seal is supposed to represent that certain foodstuffs are raised, grown and produced in a specific manner. The seal is relied upon those consumers who are willing to pay a premium for products with the seal. Therefore it is imperative that the National Organic Program and organic producers ensure the integrity and legitimacy of that seal.
Unfortunately, a March 2010 audit by the USDA Office of the Inspector General found inspection agencies were failing to ensure that organic operations were producing organic products under a uniform regulatory requirement. Those concerned have recognized that it really doesnt’ take much to be certified organic.
The problem starts with farmers choosing and paying the certifying agency, creating a conflict of interest for the certifying agent. Second, accreditation of certifying agencies is rarely reviewed. Third, organic farmers have been reluctant to maintain the paperwork to provide transparency of their operations. Fourth, certifying agencies are inconsistent with the frequency of inspections, inspection standards and the punishment of violations. Finally, the National Organic Program does not maintain a systematic program for catching fraudulent operations with few agencies testing for pesticides.
The opportunity for premium pricing fetched by organic products will continue to lure those that do not believe in the core values of organic production.
Consumers will eventually become leery of the USDA organic label as instances of fraudlent organic products become more prevalent. In the end, those that don’t produce in compliance with the organic standard and the USDA’s failure to ensure compliance devalues the intergrity of the label and the labled product.