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"The far-reaching difficulty that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has in determining whether imported “organic” food meets standards or is fraudulent means that it's hard to know what products can be trusted, a grain industry executive told a Senate committee on Thursday, as lawmakers prepare the next farm bill. The testimony comes after news that millions of pounds of questionable “organic” products have reached U.S. ports. Given the current challenges of enforcement, “it is unreasonable to accept that grain being imported into the U.S. as organic has been adequately validated,” Kenneth Dallmier, president of Clarkson Grain, said in his testimony. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is collecting information as lawmakers prepare the next major agriculture legislation. It appears that one key lawmaker is ready to shake up the way the USDA regulates what can be sold as “organic.” “It seems that uncertainty and dysfunction have overtaken the National Organic Standards Board and the regulations associated with the National Organic Program,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks. “These problems create an unreliable regulatory environment and prevent farmers that choose organic from utilizing advancements in technology and operating their business in an efficient and effective manner. Simply put, this hurts our producers and economies in rural America.” The remarks from the chairman portend a legislative fight over USDA organic standards, one that pits small farmers, many of whom have embraced organic products as a means of financial survival, against larger agricultural companies that have sought to loosen organic rules in the name of efficiency and affordability...Roberts also expressed frustration with fraudulent organic imports...In recent years, an influx of “organic” corn and soybeans from overseas has cut profits for U.S. organic farmers and raised suspicions that some of the shipments are “organic” in name only...Since then, the USDA has “decertified” two of the companies involved in the shipments. Three Democratic senators — Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) — have asked for the USDA's inspector general to increase enforcement of organic import standards. And the Organic Trade Association, a major industry group, has set up a task force to propose remedies. Among the proposals for detecting fraudulent organic imports that industry officials have drafted: adding USDA staff at overseas ports deemed to be high-risk, using electronic tracking devices that would follow a product from farm to customer, and raising the penalties for companies caught cheating."

Posted July 14th, 2017
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