By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI

Capital Press

The USDA has stripped a nonprofit organization in California of the authority to certify crops and livestock as organic.

The California Organic Farmers Association lost its status as a certifying agency for failing to correct several problems identified by USDA audits, according to the agency.

The USDA has been proposing to revoke its accreditation since 2008, but the organization only recently forfeited the appeals process, which made the decision final, the agency said.

"The importance of an organized, informed certifying agent cannot be overemphasized. COFA lacks these qualities," an agency document said.

According to the document, auditors found numerous instances of "noncompliance" by the organization, including:

* Failing to provide adequate guidance on allowed and prohibited substances.

* Maintaining records for an insufficient period of time.

* Not creating a protocol for sampling crops and inputs before and after harvest.

The organization was also faulted for inadequately preventing a potential conflict of interest for its vice president, the document said.

The unnamed vice president owned a 25 percent stake in a raisin processing plant that contracted with one of the farms certified by the organization, the document said.

The organization claimed to exclude the vice president from any decisions about farms served by the processing plant, but the auditors found that abstention policy wasn't supported by documentation, the agency said.

Capital Press was unable to contact COFA. According to USDA, other certifying agencies in California will now be responsible for overseeing the organization's farmer clients.

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