That food you bought today at the big box store was labeled “organic.” Is it? How do you know?
Crooked politicians in the US, specifically Washington DC, have encouraged Big Food businesses to help themselves to the organic industry by marketing products openly in breach of stringent organic criteria established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The USDA, in the pocket of companies, fails to prosecute violations. The lobbyists of giant food producers press the bureau to “give preference to their favored” factory model of producing food.
Don’t miss a beat
Get the latest news and thought-provoking analysis from Truthout.
The struggle against corporate food providers is often deemed one of the biggest food producer fraud investigations. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based research group, has toiled tirelessly to highlight persistent violations facing livestock enterprises manufacturing dairy products and meat.
Big Food Is Selling Organic Products Which Violate USDA Standards for Organics
Federally required organic standards call for livestock living conditions to support the well-being and expected behavior of animals. Simply put, this means that chickens and cows must have year-round entry to green meadows for feeding, shade, sunlight and fresh water. The critters must also live unconfined.
Popular products like Horizon, owned by Dean Foods, have repeatedly been caught violating the federal standards by preventing true grazing opportunities and reducing the animal’s access to free-range living.
Dean Foods bought the giant Horizon in 2004. Previously, Horizon was a respected provider of all things dairy. Horizon’s compliance problems started when Dean Foods became the owner. A giant agribusiness, Dean Foods, whose consolidated net sales totaled $9.5 billion in 2014, is also the largest dairy marketer in the nation.
An accusation filed against Horizon by the Cornucopia Institute was stopped without a USDA inspector even visiting the dairy facility. Cornucopia’s attempts didn’t end. Tired of years of USDA apathy and inaction, Cornucopia contracted for aerial photographs in nine states stretching from West Texas to New York and Maryland. Cornucopia was investigating suspicious methods by so-called “organic” branded businesses.
Cornucopia’s suspicions were proven true when a systemic pattern of corporate agribusinesses were found to be operating industrial-size, livestock confined facilities. The agribusinesses were revealed by the investigation as failing to provide for grazing or access to the outdoors as ordered by federal organic regulations.
“The federal organic regulations make it clear that all livestock sold as organic must have access to the outdoors and pasture,” said Mark Kastel, the senior farm policy analyst at Cornucopia.
Big Food Tricks
Shoppers who supported the ideals and values that the organic label represent often feel deceived when they see the pictures of the massive concentrated animal feeding operations.
Through diligent research, Cornucopia has created “organic brand scorecards,” which guides consumers in selecting organic brands that deliver on their promise of better environmental stewardship.
One thing the organic industry has on its side are regulations that certify which substances are prohibited. The reality is different. Despite the existence of stringent regulations, the USDA makes feeble attempts at enforcing the rules. The result is that no one knows if any particular food designated “certified natural food” was produced without the prohibited substances.
An audit in 2012 by the USDA’s National Organic Program appeared, at first glance, to look pretty good. After testing more than 570 specimens of product, 95 percent were in agreement with USDA regulations. A better look showed that the USDA permitted pesticide residues under levels established by the EPA. When the numbers are crunched, more than 40 percent of “organic” produce contained prohibited pesticides.
The older regulations relied on an assortment of third-party jobbers to certify the pesticide limits. Certifiers would bill the grower a royalty of as much as 3 percent of the farm’s receipts, as well as $2,000 for an inspection. The review consisted of a conversation with the farmer and a cursory survey of the farm’s paperwork. Basically, it was an honor-based practice, as there was no actual examination at the ranch according to the Genetic Literacy Project.
Without adequate on-site measurement, there is no way of determining if an organic grower is being deceptive. Even if the farmer is honest, an interview alone will not test for substantial quantities of pesticides that may have wafted their way into organic plots from neighboring nonorganic growers.
The USDA has recently changed its rules. Now the regulations appear to emphasize the fact that certifiers aren’t doing much measuring. The new rules demand organic certifiers examine specimens from at least 5 percent of the facilities they inspect annually. While the government has perpetually expected some kind of testing, the amount of testing has still been left up to the option of the inspector. The result is a certification process which is not much better than the previous ones under the older rules.
Part of the USDA’s funding is earmarked for enforcement. The bureau receives more than 200 complaints annually from people who feel that their organic food isn’t organic. In 2013, less than 20 farmers or big food growers paid over $85,000 for abusing the “organic” label according to the Genetic Literacy Project. The USDA claims to be stepping up, yet some cases indicate how extensive fraud is:
- Ken Nelson pled liable to fraudulently marketing over $40 million of supposedly organic compost to producers between 2003 and 2009. It was discovered his “organic” produce was made using ammonia and ammonium sulfate. How was the Bakersfield, California, fertilizer salesman caught? County health inspectors identified the compounds at Nelson’s plant and called for a seizure of the ranch.
- Harold Chase of Oregon pled guilty to fraud for marketing over 4 million pounds of corn that has been dishonestly marked as “organically produced.” Chase was purchasing conventionally produced corn, marking it organic and marketing the corn to Oregon organic cattle farmers.
The situations here show that certification fraud extends past just one farm. Without any type of systematic testing, it is challenging to spot the culprit – especially during growing season.