Should you be skeptical of organics from overseas?

Submitted by ameyer on May 16, 2017

In May, the Washington Post published an article bringing to the light information regarding a large amount of imported conventional corn and soy entering the US market mislabeled as organic. The Post found that at some point during the shipping process conventional crops imported from Turkey and Ukraine were labeled as organic despite coming from companies that are not certified as organic. The article highlights that although most USDA organic produce is grown in the US certain commodities, including corn, soybeans, and coffee are more likely to be imported from overseas. The USDA organic program, like any government program, does have its weaknesses, which are only amplified when handling imports. So some skepticism around the USDA organic standard is valid, but you shouldn’t give up on the program altogether. Organic foods, particularly those produced in the US, are still the best options available for consumers who want to promote a sustainable food system, and reduce their own exposure to pesticides.

Over the last few years there has been continued growth in the organics industry. This speaks to the growing consumer demand for more sustainably grown food. But there is also a significant challenge in meeting this growing demand. The US does not produce nearly enough organic food to meet the demand. Transitioning to USDA organic certification is both costly and time consuming, resulting in an increase in imports from overseas to try and keep up. As The Post article highlights, USDA is falling short in its ability to regulate imports. With demand from organics only increasing it is essential that USDA not only increase its capacity to regulate organic product being imported, but also that grown in the US. It is also essential that the agency continually reexamine the standards’ inegrity so that consumers can trust products with the USDA organic logo on them.

Here at Green America we still believe that when purchasing food at mainstream grocery stores organic is the best option and is currently the best standard available on the market. If you are concerned about the authenticity of your organic food the best action to take is to purchase food from local producers. Purchasing from local organic producers allows you to get more details about growing practices and may even provide an opportunity to pay a visit to a farm, which is a great summer learning opportunity for you and your family. Many small scale producers are growing organically or are even going beyond organic. It is important to be aware of what makes up the organic standards so that you can ask farmers the right questions and find out what practices they are using.

As citizens it is extremely important that we hold federal agencies accountable for what they are charged with regulating. Here are a few ways that you can take action around the integrity of the USDA organic standard:

  1. The 2018 Farm Bill: The Farm Bill is once again up for renegotiation. Funding for organic programs are at stake. It is important for consumers to engage their members of Congress and demand that federal dollars support organic and regenerative agriculture . Just because you may not live on a farm does not mean that you should not have a say in federal agriculture programs and the funding of these programs. Follow @GMOInside and @GreenAmerica for updates on the Farm Bill and other upcoming agricultre legislation.
  2. Contact your Members of Congress: There is no need to wait until the Farm Bill reauthorization process to discuss your concerns with your Members of Congress. If you are concerned about the integrity of the USDA organic certification reach out to your Members of Congress now. You can call, write, or schedule an in person meeting with your local representatives, find their information here. Remember that even if you and your representatives are on different political sides it is still extremely important that they here from you, they need to be aware that they represent a variety of viewpoints.
  3. Organic Standards Rule Making: National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is responsible for making decisions around the organic standards. The regular open-up rules and regulations to public comment, you can follow proposed rules and public comment periods here.
  4. Contact the US Secretary of Agriculture: It is important to let the USDA and its leadership know that you are concerned about the current managemet of the USDA organic standard. You can tweet directly at the US Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, via @SecreatySonny. You can call the USDA at 1-202-720-2791. Contact the USDA via mail:

U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

GMO Inside will issue updates and actions throughout the next year about how we can all promote more rigorous organic standards and support farmers who are meeting and exceeding organic standards in the US.

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