The Organic Trade Association (OTA) today commended the National Organic Program for publicly reinforcing that organic certification not be granted or continued when current health or safety inspections have not been granted or renewed for a facility. Furthermore, accredited certifying agents must report violations of health or safety to the appropriate governmental level.
“The organic industry takes these food safety alerts seriously and is concerned for those affected,” said Christine Bushway, OTA’s Executive Director. She added, “This, however, is not an organic issue, but rather one that is food industry-wide. Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA’s) track record of sub-par food safety controls and apparent woeful disregard for the public health is tragic.”
“While the organic certification and inspection system is not a food safety program, it recognizes the role of inspection as an important tool for prevention of food safety concerns,” Bushway added.
The way organic foods are grown and processed is among the most closely monitored food system in the world. Organic foods must meet or exceed all federal organic regulations as well as all applicable food safety regulations. The organic system includes certification by U.S.D.A. accredited agents, annual onsite audits of farms and processing facilities by independent inspectors, and transparent paper trail for the chain of custody.
U.S. regulations require that organic food and beverage products be grown according to strict standards that prohibit the use of genetically engineered seeds and growth hormones, sewage sludge, and irradiation, and processed in accordance with handling requirements that set practice standards for the prevention of contact with prohibited substances and commingling with nonorganic products. No matter where they were grown, all organic food and beverage products sold in the United States must meet U.S. national organic standards as well as all U.S. food safety regulations.
PCA’s plant violations of FDA’s food safety standards are grounds for non-compliance with the organic standards under sections governing organic handling requirements in the National Organic Program (NOP) regulation. The organic industry supports the swift and decisive moves by state and federal regulators and certifying agencies to enforce that the U.S. organic processing system is incompatible with the operational negligence revealed through the investigation of contaminated peanut products originating at PCA.
Yesterday’s NOP directive makes clear that the failure to acquire a health inspection is grounds for not certifying a facility as organic.