Feb. 29, 2012
A guilty plea in federal court in San Francisco Feb. 22 brings to a closure a case which first became public in late 2008 regarding a California company that allegedly sold a liquid fertilizer fraudulently labeled for use on organic farms. The company owner was subsequently arrested in October 2010 after being indicted by a grand jury. Since allegations about the fraudulent practice became public, the industry has put a number of measures in place, at great cost to the industry itself.
Measures that have been taken include the following:
- The Organic Trade Association (OTA) convened a task force to develop an industry standard for verifying the integrity of agricultural inputs approved for use on organic farms.
- The industry invested in research in analytical methods to detect synthetic nitrogen in inputs.
- There was a call for and implementation of new regulations in California regarding organic inputs.
- There are increased inspection regimes in place for liquid fertilizers under the National Organic Program.
- The industry has drawn up recommendations on best practices for input manufacturing plans.
- There have been a call for and final recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board for accreditation of organic material review (OMR) organizations that review material inputs for organic farms.
OTA strongly supports stringent standards for organic production and effective enforcement of those standards. A guilty plea to fraud in the organic sector warrants serious treatment and penalties commensurate with the severe damages incurred by organic farmers and the industry as a result of this fraud.
It is important that the penalties in this case should signal that cheating in the organic industry won’t be tolerated.