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Firm accused of organic label fraud

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National Organic Program says no products were sold under false label


By STEVE BROWN


Capital Press


An organic certifying agent in France has reported that an uncertified operation in China has circulated a fraudulent USDA organic certificate.


Soybeans, white melons, buckwheat and millet were listed as certified organic by Fushan Hengchang Trade Co. Ltd., in Dalian, China. The city, on the Yellow Sea coast west of North Korea, is China's northernmost warm water port.


Farms in the area also produce corn, vegetables, apples, cherries and pears. Aquaculture operations in Dalian export seaweed, scallops and sea urchins.


The National Organic Program stated the certificate's false representation violates the USDA's Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, administered by the agency.


"The NOP has not found evidence that any product was sold, labeled or represented as organic using the fraudulent certificate," NOP deputy administrator Miles McEvoy said.


Although violations may occur, McEvoy said, the vigilance of the organic community will help stop them.


"We are warning certifying agents and organic handlers to be on the lookout and to notify the NOP if anyone tries to sell organic products using fraudulent certificates."


The certifying agent, Ecocert SA in L'Isle Jourdain, France, brought the fraudulent certificate to the attention of the NOP and is not responsible for its production, according to the NOP.


Any use of an NOP certificate or other fraudulent documents to market, label or sell nonorganic agricultural products as organic can result in a civil penalty of up to $11,000 per violation.


People with information regarding the production or use of any fraudulent NOP certificate are asked to contact Mark Bradley, director, NOP Compliance and Enforcement Division, at 202-720-3252 or at NOPCompliance@ams.usda.gov .


The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based advocate for organic farming, praised the NOP's approach to enforcement and its transparency.


"By working closely with certifying agents, and sharing concerns like this with the wider organic community, the USDA's National Organic Program is working as it was designed by Congress to protect ethical industry participants and the public," Cornucopia co-director Mark Kastel said. "Unfortunately, this incident also serves as a stark reminder that imports from China are fraught with peril."


In a 2009 report on the organic soy industry, Cornucopia raised concerns about organic soybeans imported from China. The organization estimated that as much as half of organic soybeans used in the U.S. came from overseas, primarily China.


"This incident illustrates why so many responsible processors and marketers in the organic industry shun organic imports," said Charlotte Valleys, the report's lead author.



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