Organic food to be tested periodically

Starting next year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will require periodic tests of organic food. The Wall Street Journal reports that the intent is to help ensure producers aren't using prohibited pesticides, genetically modified organisms or other nonorganic substances:

Under existing USDA regulations, organic-food producers must get an initial inspection before being certified to produce organic food. But the agency hasn't required they get continued periodic testing to ensure their products remain free of nonorganic material.

The USDA is mandating that agents test annually a minimum of 5% of the farms or production facilities they are contracted to monitor. That is enough testing, the USDA said, to discourage use of prohibited substances without raising costs to the organic industry. It will be up to the private, USDA-accredited agents as to which facilities to test.

The agency said the new testing requirements will protect the integrity of the industry by discouraging the mislabeling of organic food that consumers buy.

In same cases, even the organic producers may be getting duped. Consider the story reported last week by The Packer, a trade publication of the fruit and vegetable industry, about a man who admitted defrauding the organic industry by selling mor ethan $6.5 million of a non-compliant fertilizer.  Peter Townsley, the former owner of California Liquid Fertilizer, was sentenced to a 364-day federal prison term (which started last week, a $125,000 fine and three years of probation.

And for the first six months of that probation, according to The Packer, Townsley must live in a halfway house and perform 1,000 hours of public service in organic agriculture, preferably with community organic farming projects, the judge said.

The judge received comments from several interested parties stressing the ripple effect Townsley’s actions had on the organic industry because it raised doubts among consumers and undermined the public trust in the USDA’s organic certification program.