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Organic growers support new USDA fraud rules

Mark Moran

(Iowa News Service) New U.S. Department of Agriculture rules will target fraud and increase oversight of the $64 billion-a-year organic food industry.

In Iowa, the nation's number one producer of organic corn and soybeans, growers call it the most important change the agency has ever made to its organic food program.

To be considered organic, a grower must be able to guarantee their food has been produced with no synthetic herbicides, pesticides or genetically modified seeds for at least three years, which is hard for ag inspectors to police.

Roz Lehman, executive director of the Iowa Organic Association, said fraud has grown along with the industry, and thinks the rules for oversight and reporting will be much stricter for food to be legally certified as organic.

"So, what this rule is going to do, it's going to expand the number of certifications that are required all the way through that supply chain," Lehman outlined. " We're going to be able to track that certification through the Organic Integrity Database."

The organic food industry is growing between 5 percent and 10 percent a year, and Lehman said Iowa continues to lead the national growth trend. The new rules go into effect in March.

Produce, grain and, in Iowa, pork, have been especially vulnerable to organic labeling fraud, and state and national growers have been pushing for tighter certification rules for a decade.

Lehman argued organic growers deserve a level playing field when it comes to their competition, and when people pay top dollar for food labeled organic, they expect it actually is. 

"That those products that say 'USDA organic' on them are products that are coming from producers and operations that are following those rules, all the way through the supply chain," Lehman noted. "From the farm to the processor, to the packaging, all the way to the grocery store shelves."

The U.S. Justice Department recently indicted two international companies for illegally attempting to export food labeled organic into the country, which was not certified by the USDA.

Lehman's group is holding a webinar on crop insurance for organic producers February 7.