Canada’s lack of organic testing ‘laughable’

With no testing clause in the country’s national standard it’s like trying to catch speeders without a radar gun, says former inspector

Canada is likely experiencing the same kind of organic fraud detailed in a recent Washington Post investigative piece, says a former inspector.

The Post article outlined three cases where large shipments of conventional corn and soybeans were marketed as organic product upon arrival in the United States.

One of the cases involved 16 million kilograms of soybeans that began the trip from Ukraine as conventional product and somehow achieved a USDA Organic designation by the time it arrived in California via Turkey.

All three cases involved product that was originated in Ukraine or Romania and was routed through Turkey on the way to the United States. Most of the product was sold as organic feed.

Mischa Popoff, a former organic inspector who worked in both Canada and the U.S., said Canada is more vulnerable to fraud than its neighbour to the south because the U.S. national standard at least contains a clause for testing imported product.

“Canada doesn’t even have a testing clause. You can search high and low and there’s nothing in there,” said Popoff, who now lives in Texas.

“Whatever they did down here is going to be dead easy to do up there.”

Tia Loftsgard, executive director of the Canada Organic Trade Association, said Canada, like many other jurisdictions, has a process-based standard that uses due diligence every step of the way from the field to the grocery store shelf.

She said testing is expensive and an organic producer shouldn’t be penalized by test results if their crops are unintentionally contaminated by pesticide spray drift from a nearby conventional farm.

Loftsgard said the Washington Post article has “caused a stir,” but she stressed that fraud is uncommon.

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“We don’t feel that this represents the norm. This is sort of a one-off item,” she said.

Loftsgard said Canada imports a lot of its organic food, but there are safeguards in place to ensure imported product meets the re-quirements of Canada’s national standard.

Popoff said the one sure-fire way to uncover fraud is to test food for pesticide or GMO residue, but Canada’s organic sector held out for years to get a national standard that did not include a testing clause.

“It’s like a policeman trying to catch speeders without a radar gun,” he said.

“I mean, it’s just unthinkable. It’s laughable, in fact.”

He said the result is a standard that allows questionable product from places like China to enter the country, driving down organic prices and profits for Canadian farmers.

Consumers are also paying a price.

“Those people are doubling their grocery bill, assuming they’re getting something organic, whatever that means, and they’re not,” said Popoff.

However, testing isn’t foolproof. The Washington Post article ex-posed some of the questionable testing practices used on imported product from China.

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Inspection agencies that provide USDA Organic certification for imported product are required to test samples provided by five percent of their clients in foreign markets such as China.

The Post examined test results from three of the most active USDA approved inspection agencies working in China.

Ceres, a German company, found more than trace levels of pesticide residue on 37 percent of the 232 samples it tested from Chinese organic farms.

By contrast, Ecocert, a French inspection company, found residue on one percent of its 360 samples, which the Post said is a level of cleanliness that is remarkable for any country, let alone China.

“Critics say the disparity in results shows that certifying agencies can make any farm look organic,” stated the article.

The Post article has prompted Cornucopia Institute, a group that calls itself the organic industry’s most aggressive watchdog, to renew its call to replace the management at the U.S. National Organic Program.

The institute said the agency has been ignoring improprieties in imports since it first started documenting them in 2009.

“Instead of taking action, the NOP sat back and watched domestic markets erode to the point where organic grain farmers could no longer make a living,” the institute said in a news release.

The Organic Trade Association is calling on the USDA to complete an immediate and thorough investigation on the alleged fraud.

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“While the issues identified in the article do not constitute a systemic flaw in oversight of the organic claim, they raise serious red flags that need to be addressed,” the association said in a news release.

  • Stuart McMillan

    Fortunately Mr. Popoff is wrong again. He simply doesn’t know where to look. It is clearly spelled out in the CFIA Operators Manual when and where testing is required. “C.2.3.18 The CB shall require sampling and testing, in an event of a complaint concerning the use of or contamination with prohibited substance, as part of the investigation of the complaint.”
    As an active organic inspector I take samples for testing, I see companies testing voluntarily and I see organic certification bodies instructing their inspectors to take samples. Perhaps the WP should start talking to organic inspectors who are active in the Canadian Prairies, not ones who stopped working here over a decade ago and they would get a realistic picture, not a fabricated one.

    • You’re quoting from the operating manual? As a fellow organic inspector, I humbly suggest you have a look at the actual standards: CAN/CGSB-32.310-2015.

      There’s no testing. No field testing; no end-product testing. No testing.

      And besides, testing in the “event of a complaint” isn’t going to deter fraud. Fraudsters are adept at avoiding suspicion. Ever heard of Bernie Madoff?

      This is why over 40% of all organic food sold in Canada is contaminated with prohibited pesticide residue; according to the CFIA no less.

      Happy reading.

      • Harold

        What you are saying Mischa, is that the non-organic producers are committing a fraud. Committing any fraud is a felony/criminal offense and if there is anything laughable it is the Government that allows the practice of fraud to continue unchallenged within their borders. You can point to all of the silly little reports and read about all of the silly little failures but they all point to the Government and their agencies failure and inaction to arresting the perpetrators of fraud. You can point to all of the codes you wish, but the “codes” of fraud in the Law books are “cut and dried”. It is not the Organic producers who committing this fraud. All that you have provided for is the evidence of Fraud committed by the non-Organic sector; is this – your “Happy reading”.
        It takes no imagination at all to understand which mother corporations benefit the most by fraud and the lack of government intervention. In contrast, if the consumers were to correct the fraud, you would have only the opposite to speak of. In betrayal and fraud, is this the consumers new Job? If so, why are we paying the Government?
        To get out of a Fraud – is to accept the fraud – is hardly a message worth reading. Do you have a part or plan B?

      • ed

        Pesticides bad is your message, right!

        • Gmo Roberts

          If you believe the organic crap they are.

    • ed

      Yes, not one that has jumped ship is what I hear you saying here. Better to remain quiet and be thought of as totally uninformed than to start talking and remove all doubt.

  • Yes, it’s true, “testing isn’t foolproof.” But this is because the Washington Post and all USDA NOP certifiers are performing end-product testing. When testing is performed in the field (as required by US federal law), it is nearly foolproof.

    Olympic athletes are tested DURING the Games, not after.

    • ed

      They should test all the farms and see if they are using chemicals. That what they do in the Olympics. If you use you are out. That would lower the price of well grown food or maybe it would go up. Doesn’t matter! Bottom line is the humans that we produce for want to eat good healthy food not petrochemicals. They will feed that to their cars. Consumers expect farmers to do it right. It is kind of an unwritten agreement between them. If the consumers knew the truth they would be very disappointed with our production methods. Modern agriculture with it’s communication spin is keeping a good tight lid on the truth thus far, but it is coming frayed at the edges a bit. Stay tuned as this thing could come completely unravelled and the results would be off the hook. The industry needs smarter spin doctors if they are going to keep this gravy train on track.

      • Harold

        [Canada’s lack of organic testing ‘laughable’] In this case, Mr. Popoff and Mr. Pratt are explaining that the criminals are laughing in the faces of the honest. (non-laughing consumer and true organic farmer) No real news here and void of any doable corrective measures formulated by their own experiences. This is hardly Boardroom material.
        As you know, the Corporate help build the Legal Codes/Acts (lobbying) and the agencies that they all hide behind which enable them to deceive the consumer and to withhold information. Regardless, they are no match to those with conscience and action. The “spin doctors” are at war to muddy and to control those of correct conscience and action. (to confound a clear conscience) Lies are spun in favor of more believable lies and those lies become the truth. (secrecy) On the other hand, what goes along with one truth is another profound truth and neither can be spun. (transparency) For this I agree with you.
        Further to your comment, may I add that every person knows inside themselves (conscience) that it is wrong to lie and to misrepresent by withholding the truth, and that in knowingly doing so, it is undeniably felt at the core of our being. (habitual liars perhaps become numb) This human ability is the fundamental “unwritten agreement”. (exactly as you say) whereby from it arises the written Laws. The unwritten law: “thou shall not lie human conscience” – is the first life of the seconded and written: “what happens after you lie” Laws. I thought that I would point out that the “unwritten agreement” is more than just “kind of”; it’s a fundamental of all contracts with or without paper. Forgive me, but “kind of” is a little too close to “maybe” for a something that is. I could agree had your terms been stronger. If I contract with you and my terms and obligations are “kind of” and your terms and obligations are “is”, then I will have the better part of the imbalanced deal and you will not be able to legally back away from any of my substitutions without penalty whereas I can. In a sense, this is what the food and chemical industry are doing to the consumer. No doubt why the food and drugs are the same agency; a corporate marriage made in heaven.

        • ed

          Exactly.

  • richard

    There should be mandatory residue testing on all imports……full stop……Quit the monothematic rants on testing everything domestic…….There are one percent who cheat on everything, that’s life….. get over it please…..

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Eh, glad to see the weakness exposed. But after all, organic is just a marketing scheme. So, no big deal really.

    • If we were to begin testing all organic crops and livestock herds just once a year, organics would be so-much more than mere marketing.

    • ed

      Yes, it was better when all farmers did it right and we only had to get the best price out of our buyers rather than share with 10 parasites along the way. Great comments!

    • Kissing optional

      If it isn’t the corporate welfare sucking chemical companies intentionally sabotaging the organic products to discredit the clean foodstuffs producers, it must be chemical agribiz growers letting their toxic crap escape onto their neighbours’ land. This poor crop husbandry should be met with lawsuits

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        Intentionally sabotaging? Got proof. Got proof that conventional Ag gets different subsidies than organic? Toxic crap? Nonsense. If we sold toxic crap folks would not buy it. Our conventional food is as safe as organic. Yes, organic farmers who claim a smaller carbon footprint or better nutrition should be sued.

        • Kissing optional

          If the organic producers were making false claims, your puppet string pullers would have already sued.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            You just used the shill gambit of ignorance. …. Also, you have no idea how the legal system works. Suing is not worth it unless specific damages can be proved. Organic folks make false claims. But no one company can prove specific sales losses. …

        • ed

          Well, it is well known that it is toxic crap. It does have skull and crossbones on every box and the smart operators do were full hazmat, rubber gloves and respirators for good reason. If organic fields have enough drift from conventional fields your statement about equal safety could be true. That is not happening to any great degree and that is why the premiums on organic are so large and demand growing.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Nobody wears that much PE to spray crops. …. Organic demand is a temporary fad that will soon start to slide. Why? Because it is a deceptive marketing scheme.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Nope the premiums are too high and sales are growing because too many folks believe the false claims of organic. There is no significant benefit to growing or eating the stuff, except for the premiums.

        • Harold

          If there were a valid Claim against the organic farmer it would be brought before the Courts. Speaking of being sued, one example is the recent AG claim was against Syngenta. $217.7 million was awarded to 7,000 farmers with future settlements estimated to reach a total of $5.77 billion. The vague term “Toxic crap” can also include monetary losses. (many untold law suits)
          Without the organic plant, where do you think the GE or GMO plants come from? Do you think that GE and GMO are made from scratch? What makes you think that the sole purpose of plant modification and gene editing is anything to do with nutrition when clearly it is for the purpose of plants surviving pesticide applications and insects, etc? Are you saying that we can have both because some mortal born unto us said so? What does your nutrition claim stand on? Glyphosate residue (pesticides) found in/on the “safe foods” is added nutrition and when not found, the product is somehow void of that nutrition? What part of the can of skull and crossbones does not do the skull and crossbones thing? It certainty is a money maker if we are all convinced to eat it. For those not convinced, it is hidden in their food to gain their acceptance unknowingly. (Labeling resistance)
          If mortals are to be believed, how then will you account for the local and world failures? For decades the priests of an Utopian future have spoken but the self-appointed elite are the only ones living in it, and we in its servitude by choice or by a lack thereof in our ignorance.
          The carbon footprint is a fake footprint and is instead the footprint of the global elites upon societies and it is nothing more. You could be the proof if you examined, but like most, they expect information to just drop from the sky and into their lap. Currently you can believe well over 31,000 (6,000 PHD) climate scientists or you can pay the elitist’s punitive taxes; it all comes out of your wallet and from your profits and not theirs.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            I have never seen a skull and crossbones on a glyphosate container, and have survived the use of many. As to nutrition. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/09/little-evidence-of-health-benefits-from-organic-foods-study-finds.html and http://www.eufic.org/en/food-production/article/systematic-review-finds-no-difference-in-nutritional-value-of-organic-vs.-c The rest of your rant is either conspiracy nonsense or goofy stuff about the forebears of crops being organic.

          • Harold

            Perhaps I should have been clearer with the use of skull and crossbones. I used the term in reference to product warning labels. It wasn’t surprising that you send me on a Industry and government fed University of Medicine goose chase to read a corporate funded opinion. Let’s look a little deeper at the funding. The following is written by Stanford administration:

            Office of Sponsored Research (OSR) Contracts
            OSR Contract and Grant Officers (CGOs) are responsible for the formal negotiation and administration of extramural support for University contract agreements funded by government and non-government sponsors (sponsored projects). The CGOs in OSR prepare, negotiate and oversee federally-funded contracts, subawards and subcontracts for the School of Medicine. The exceptions are contracts, subcontracts, and subawards that are primarily industry-funded, such as clinical trials and clinical research. These clinical agreements are negotiated by the RMG Clinical Trial Contract Officers (See RMG above).
            They ensure the collection of over $400M annually in research funds and are also responsible for the completion of monthly GL analyses and reconciliations, quarterly and year end variance analyses, audits and the remittance of federal interest as prescribed by the A-110 provisions
            Industrial Contracts Office (ICO)- ICO is responsible for negotiating and signing sponsored research, collaboration, and material transfer agreements with industry except for clinical trial agreements, which are handled by the Office of Sponsored Research.

            There is much more written, but most will get the point. Perhaps you can enlighten me and tell me how GE and GMO were first created. Where did they get the organism or the gene?

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            I see, the point is that you want to deflect away from the actual issues to quibble about funding. No thanks. Before funding can be whined about the specific paper must be refuted in some way. Than and only then does the funding become an issue. http://fafdl.org/gmobb/about-those-industry-funded-gmo-studies/

          • Kānāwai Māmalahoe

            The analysis linked by Eric is a joke as you already know…

            They left out many studies as outlined on the first link to NIH. gov below. Their analysis is against every other meta-analysis and the others were all much better done. Even used the same tobacco science statistician and it still says less pesticides and calls his own results “weak”…

            Others have thoroughly exposed the issues of excluding studies by the authors of the analysis you can read details here:
            https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/120-a458/

            https://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/opinionator/2012/10/02/that-flawed-stanford-study/?referer=

            Further criticism of the meta-analysis method pointed out the link between Olkin and Big Tobacco companies. The petition alleges that Olkin worked with Big Tobacco companies in the past that used meta-analysis to skew data on the health effects of cigarettes. Due to this precedent, the petition described the meta-analysis method as a “a way to lie with statistics.”

            http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/11/16/authors-stand-by-results-of-controversial-organic-food-study/

            https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/div-classtitlehigher-antioxidant-and-lower-cadmium-concentrations-and-lower-incidence-of-pesticide-residues-in-organically-grown-crops-a-systematic-literature-review-and-meta-analysesdiv/33F09637EAE6C4ED119E0C4BFFE2D5B1
            An international team of experts led by Newcastle University has shown that organic crops are up to 60% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown ones. The meta-analysis of 343 studies looked at the compositional differences between organic and conventional crops, the team found that a switch to eating organic fruit, vegetable and cereals – and food made from them – would provide additional antioxidants equivalent to eating between 1-2 extra portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

            Harvard report to European Union
            http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/581922/EPRS_STU(2016)581922_EN.pdf https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b66f850809fe373b42b5fb4f2165fa1b2268730661a0f4068cbecbda02e1ed84.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/373cef651b48d5e6c9e623b4cd61ab01ecb239b8f3724bc7663fa95e812a4dbc.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7b24a20452cd8493bcae8f3a8bed2e5212a6478e00c20c77e7a2477e012ff325.jpg

          • hyperzombie

            Without the organic plant, where do you think the GE or GMO plants come from?

            No such thing, the same plant can be organic and nonorganic at the same time. Organic farmers get their seeds and crops from conventional breeders, not the other way around.

            What part of the can of skull and crossbones does not do the skull and crossbones thing?

            the skull and crossbones are more likely to be on an “Organic Pesticide than a conventional one.

            Plus Organic has a larger Carbon footprint than conventional farming. \give your head a shake and stop falling for marketing propaganda.

          • Harold

            Your reference to organic is by the trade name “organic”. The Trade name “organic” is relevant only to the regulations and corresponding Industry set standards and solely for the purpose of its commercial marketing sales. In commercial Trade there is Organic and non-Organic and each are determined by Industry regulations and standards. This is where you stand and therefore cannot respond to the scientific term organic wherein definition all plants are organic and thereby is no such thing as a non-organic. You either have a modified plant or you don’t. GE and GMO are organic.

            Further, my reference to skull and crossbones was intentionally pointed at warning labels in general but also I wrote a “can of skull and crossbones” in reference to the ingredients in the can that earn the warning label and I did not name a product. Pesticides and the like are not meant to be consumed but yet they are, so to your benefit, what pesticide stops being a pesticide after its entry into the human body. Lots of money is earned if you can convince people to eat it.
            Carbon and footprint each have a definable dictionary meaning but when placed together it is Industry propaganda that defines the meaning and you say that I should give my head a shake?
            Surely you must have more in your arsenal than just mere insults.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Nonsense. I see you have no proof. Thanks.

  • Kate

    Misha,
    I hear you suggesting that organic farmers should test (and bear the cost for testing). And yet, you said that the fraud is happening by brokers who are fabricating organic certificates for conventional product and which has nothing to do with organic farms. Testing at the farm level will do nothing to stop product substitution fraud. What’s to stop a fraudster from fabricating test results too? There has to be a more effective solution.
    To mean anything, testing would need to be performed by the end processor or the grocery chain. They may be doing some of those tests already and I suggest that you direct your concerns toward them.

    Another suggestion is that Canada needs a stand-alone “Organic Act” to get away from the problem that CFIA tests for food safety, and not for compliance with the organic production standard.

    As an organic farmer I would appreciate it if you could work with us to find solutions which would actually do some good, and stop blaming farmers for a fraud problem that is not coming from the organic farm.

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    Not a relevant business. However since organic crops are no less risky. If this applied to conventional. It would also apply to organic.

    • Harold

      Is tobacco a plant that is farmed? Is tobacco agriculture? Is tobacco a plant that is chewed by some? Folks do not buy toxic crap? The relevance seems to be rather inconvenient so lets just dismiss all of this so that your original claim can stay in tact.

  • Harold

    According to you, asphalt can be organic and not-organic at the same time. When?
    When the “rare berries” or brazil nuts do become genetically modified or gene edited, where will they get the gene or DNA from to perform its modification?
    What do you call the newly edited amongst the remaining unedited brazil nut?
    What are the differences between a spontaneous mutation and a
    technology driven mutation?
    What are the differences between plants produced pesticide and commercially produced pesticides?
    You don’t have to tell me who is full of Industry led propaganda if you cannot answer any of these questions.
    I assume that you will continue enriching the charlatans of your reduced costs at all costs.
    I was not seeking the “sweat off” your “ass” so I can assure you that there has been no loss to you or your donkey.

    • hyperzombie

      According to you, asphalt can be organic and not-organic at the same time. When?

      not at the same time. Asphalt is Organic, because it contains carbon. It has been this way for a couple of hundred years now.

      When the “rare berries” or brazil nuts do become genetically modified or gene edited, where will they get the gene or DNA from to perform its modification?

      I don’t understand the question? Genes are genes, they don’t come from anywhere.

      What are the differences between plants produced pesticide and commercially produced pesticides?

      Nothing. They are both pesticides and the can both be benign or deadly.