USDA revokes organic certification for Turkey grain exporter

Organic Trade Assn. welcomes enforcement of organic standards to maintain integrity of the label.

The National Organic Program (NOP) received complaints that non-organic grains and oilseeds are being imported from Turkey and fraudulently sold as organic in the U.S. As such, NOP has revoked the organic certification for one of Turkey's grain exporters.

In the course of investigating complaints of fraudulent imports, NOP identified violations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic regulations involving soybean shipments managed by Beyaz Agro, a certified organic grain and oilseed handling operation, and two related entities: Hakan Organics based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Agropex, based in Broadway, Va.

USDA said the investigation related to a shipment of 16,250 metric tons of soybeans that arrived in the U.S. on Nov. 12, 2016. The soybeans had been previously exported from Ukraine to Turkey and were then re-exported from Turkey to the U.S.

However, before leaving Ukraine, the soybeans had been fumigated with aluminum phosphide, which is a prohibited substance under the USDA organic regulations. Upon arrival in the U.S., the fumigated soybeans were sold as USDA organic.

NOP found discrepancies between Agropex’s documents and those that Beyaz Agro provided to Turkey’s accredited certifying agent, Kiwa-BCS, for organic transition certificates.

The Organic Trade Assn. (OTA) applauded the action, saying in a statement, “Anytime there is fraud anywhere in the organic system, it takes value out of the organic chain and hurts organic farmers wherever they farm. The oversight of foreign organic suppliers and the enforcement of organic standards must be rigorous and robust. The integrity of the organic certification process and the commitment to compliance and enforcement are the lifeblood of the organic industry, ensuring a level playing field for U.S. organic farmers, and the organic industry supports strong action to uphold that integrity.”

USDA also has begun to post enforcement actions when violations are found on a rolling basis, allowing new notices to be posted within one to two weeks of being issued rather than on a quarterly basis.

“OTA also commends USDA for committing to improving the timely and detailed communication on critical compliance issues to the trade,” the group noted.

Gwen Wyard, OTA vice president of regulatory affairs, said over the past couple of months, it has been clear to the industry that there are major vulnerabilities in the organic supply chain. In hopes of maintaining the label’s integrity, Wyard said the Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force has been established to proactively fix any weak links.

One of the recommendations explored is properly funding the NOP to make sure it has the resources for effective oversight and enforcement across the entire supply chain. Currently, NOP receives only $9 million per year to cover the $40 billion-per-year organic sector. OTA said it’ll be advocating for 10% growth per year in the next farm bill.

In addition, it is seeking $5 million funding for technology systems to handle international data collection. “Technology is a weak link in the system,” Wyard said, as certification currently is only a paper document system, which is where traceability efforts often break down.

The task force is also examining whether a regulatory fix is needed to require importers, brokers and ports -- which previously were excluded from needing organic certification -- to become certified.

The Agricultural Marketing Service's NOP accredits and oversees more than 80 organizations, called certifiers, that verify and document the claims of more than 37,000 organic farms and businesses around the world.

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