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.

“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.

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.

“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.

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