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Chinese berry producer loses organic certification


Inspectors find large number of empty fertilizer bags at plant




By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI


Capital Press


The USDA has revoked the organic certification of a Chinese goji berry producer due to large-scale use of chemical fertilizers.


Goji berries are used in a number of food products, including juices and teas, and are often touted for their healthful properties.


The farm operation -- Changxingda Limited Industrial Co. of Bayannaoer, located in China's Inner Mongolia province -- was found to use synthetic fertilizers in violation of organic regulations, according to documents from the CERES certification agency.


Certifying agencies keep client data confidential, but Capital Press obtained the documents by filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the USDA.


Inspectors from CERES found a "huge number of empty fertilizer bags" at the site, despite the company's claim that it only used compost for nutrients, according to revocation documents.


The goji berry plants were also found to have a "luxuriant crop with heavy bearing" even though the soil appeared to be low in organic matter, the documents said. Inspectors detected urea and diammonium phosphate in several fields.


The revocation document said the operation was also found to have used an herbicide and an insecticide, which demonstrated "that the quality management system of your organic goji berry project is linked to serious and ongoing and -- at least in some cases -- willful problems," the revocation documents said.


A subsidiary of the Nidera international agribusiness company, based in the Netherlands, also had its organic certification revoked recently.


Quality Assurance International, a certifying agency, received a complaint about "contaminated oats" at a grain elevator owned by Nidera in Chicago, according to revocation documents obtained by the Capital Press from USDA. No details were given about the nature of the alleged contamination.


When inspectors made an unannounced visit to the elevator, a representative of the company refused to provide them with access to the firm's facility and records, which prompted QAI to revoke its certification, the documents said.


According to a list of adverse actions by USDA's National Organic Program, the agency has revoked the organic certifications of eight companies so far this year.



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