As we close out 2018 and look to 2019, some organic updates:
Organic Grain Fraud continues, but perhaps two small rays of hope.
The organic fraud saga perpetrated on U.S. organic grain producers continues, but there are some rays of hope as we close out 2018 and look to 2019.
Last February, OFARM received word of a potential questionable shipment of organic grain originating in Turkey and to be unloaded in Stockton, CA. OFARM filed a formal complaint with USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). Subsequently, after several weeks of legal wrangling, the cargo departed and was sent to England where it was reportedly unloaded.
In the aftermath, the reported certifier, EcoCert SA reached a settlement with USDA . French based EcoCocert certifies operations in 26 countries, and certifies 2,000 operations under the NOP’s organic standards. The company expanded its presence in the U.S. organic market in 2010 after it acquired Indiana Certified Organic LLC, one of the first certification agencies accredited by the NOP, and established Ecocert ICO LLC, based in Plainfied, Indiana. USDA’s NOP delivered a mere slap on the wrist in its settlement over the Stockton shipment which included a fine of $5,000 for selling products as “certified” while suspended. (Sustainable Food News, Nov. 26, 2018)
When NOP was asked about the owners of the cargo involved, they had no comment due to the case still being investigated.
Basically, this amounts to a slap on the wrist. The NOP often opts for settlements as an easy way out of long court battles and legal wrangling.
In September 2018, two ships were unloaded with organic grain in the Port of New Orleans. A number of questions arose about the cargoes and NOP. One was that at least one of the cargoes originated in Serbia. Reports about Serbian agriculture from the Serbian government itself are that most Serbian farms are 12-20 acres in size and a majority of the “organic” corn is fed to livestock in the country. The corn was loaded on a ships in a Romanian port. One of the ships with a reported mere 40,000 bushels then sailed to a Russian port on the Black Sea, finished loading and then sailed on to New Orleans. Cargoes of organic grain generally range from about 450,000 to 490,000 bushels of grain. Further reports from individuals on the ground in Romania who talked to sources familiar with the situation was that some of the corn actually was snuck in to be loaded from Ukraine.
Ukrainian Ministry of Agriculture information notes that the country has limited organic corn production with about 440 certified organic farms, 80% who sell their production of berries, fruits and other products into the EU. Ukraine organic corruption has been on the table since the import fraud crisis began in 2015.
To add further suspicion, the reported owners of the cargoes were the same Turkish company cited in the EcoCert case above. OFARM filed formal complaints with the NOP and basically received the third degree questioning why these shipments were suspicious. Adding further questions about the NOP’s willingness to take things seriously, was a previous exchange with NOP officials and OFARM about exactly how much organic corn produced with integrity is actually grown in Russia. The answer was less then reassuring with the response that USDA doesn’t know and they are trying to ascertain that.
The two New Orleans ships unloaded to barges and were last reported sailing up the Mississippi River. There is no sign of the NOP even bothering to investigate. Reports are that some of the grain was loaded to rail cars and sent to the West Coast to avoid the scrutiny organic shipments have been receiving in Stockton, CA.
Another breach of organic integrity right here at home. In September, three Nebraska grain producers were cited as part of Federal Court proceedings in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in an on-going scam selling conventional grain as organic. While an additional party was only cited by its initials, “J.S.” in the court filings, it would appear to be the company, Jericho Solutions whose main office is in Chillicothe, Missouri. The court filings cite the scam as beginning in 2010 and continuing through at least 2017. Further research shows that Jericho Solutions was cited in an instance in 2007 for loads of suspect soybeans shipped to Nevada Soy that tested 20% GMO contamination. When caught, the company quickly replaced the beans. However, it is hard to imagine GMO levels that high in soybeans happening by accident since they are self-pollinating.
Information surrounding this case does not indicate whether it was the NOP and certifiers who actually caught this 7-year running fraud case or some other agency stumbled on the information such as the IRS. In either case, it apparently takes at least 7 years for the Keystone Cops in some cases for the NOP to get up to speed.
Now for some positive news:
OFARM has had a conversation with one leading organic grain company in the Midwest and a report of another small one on the West Coast who are no longer willing to import high risk fraudulent imported grains and are only sourcing U.S. grown.
Secondly the Farm Bill if passed as proposed by Congress in its Lame Duck session did contain more funding and authority for the NOP with regard to policing fraudulent imports.
OFARM now has a logo that will be attached by the member coops to Bills of Lading, TC’s and other official business documents to assure potential buyers that OFARM member coop producers’ grain is produced in the U.S. You may see something similar to the logo below in black and white. If you do your own TC’s contact your member coop to find out how you can also use it.
Going to the market with good planning and hiring a good marketing agent will take you a long ways towards more dollars for your operation in 2019.
OFARM member cooperative contacts:
Central Plains Organic Producers
Martin Eddy- 785.829.7771
Harry Bennet -785.466.1728
Mike Schulist- 715.496.3956
Midwest Organic Farmers Cooperative
Merle Kramer- 734.649.7172
If you know of someone, farmer, consumer or group who would willingly contribute to help OFARM in its fight for fairness, profitability and organic integrity, refer them to the OFARM website at www.ofarm.coop and click on the upper right hand corner icon “DONATE” to make a donation for this purpose. We thank you in advance.
Our good friend Harriet Behar, who was formerly with MOSES and now is an Outreach Specialist for OGRAIN, Organic and Sustainable Cropping Systems Program University of Wisconsin-Madison was recently elected National Organic Standards Board chair. We look forward to working with her as we move forward in the coming year.
Congratulations to De Etta Bilek who was elected to the Organic Farmers Asssociation Policy Committee and to John Mesko, MOSES executive director who was recently elected to the position of advisor to the Organic Farmers Association (OFA) Governing Council.
OFARM annual meeting- February 19-21, Courtyard by Marriott, LaCrosse, WI
Plan to also attend the MOSES conference next door at the LaCrosse Convention Center, Feb. 21-23, 2019.