Organic industry to introduce fraud prevention program in 2019

Published: December 5, 2018
Industry task force developed Best Management Practices Guide, which will serve as basis for the program

Members of an organic supply chain integrity task force have developed a best management practices (BMP) guide to prevent organic fraud. Speaking at the Organic & Non-GMO Forum, Gwendolyn Wyard, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the Organic Trade Association (OTA), gave an update on the guide and other initiatives to address fraud in the organic industry.

Wyard said addressing the fraud is critical to growing the organic industry. “We want to protect organic, the integrity of organic products, and want to go beyond the niche to where people eat organic regularly.”

Wyard cited several incidents of organic fraud including a highly publicized 2017 Washington Post article that detailed millions of tons of corn and soybeans fraudulently labeled organic. But she also mentioned several incidents of organic fraud in the U.S., including a recently uncovered scam involving three Nebraska organic farmers fraudulently selling corn and soybeans as organic.

“It’s not just imports; domestic fraud does and can happen. It extends beyond crops to inputs. Fraud can’t be tolerated in the organic system,” Wyard said.

She said the Washington Post exposé was a call to action, leading OTA to establish a Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force (GOSCITF). More than 30 member companies from all ends of the organic supply chain participated in the task force, which began meeting in July 2017.

The task force aimed to develop a best management practices guide to prevent fraud, one that would provide organic businesses with a process for developing and implementing fraud mitigation measures.

“The guide aims to establish a process for continuously improving internal quality control programs, one which complements and reinforces the organic certification process,” Wyard said.

Michigan State University’s Food Fraud Think Tank provided a model for GOSCITF to follow, Wyard said.

The guide’s steps include conducting a vulnerability assessment to identify weaknesses where fraud could occur, developing mitigation measures, monitoring to ensure measures are effective, and integrating measures into the organic certification system.

A pilot project for the BMP guide was launched this past June and continued through September. Wyard said 13 task force member companies “test drove the program” by moving a range of ingredients, including grains, fruits, and flavors, through the supply chain and tracking them.

According to Wyard, some key takeaways from the pilot case studies included improved visibility and confidence in the supply chain, the need for strong communications within the supply chain, and the importance of routine auditing and monitoring to strengthen the system, among others.

Wyard said the BMP guide will be published in 2019 and will be the basis of an Organic Industry Fraud Prevention Program. Industry-wide enrollment in the voluntary program will begin in early 2019. There are also plans to develop a preferred buyer list of companies that are adopting the BMP guide.

“Leadership and commitment from organic businesses will drive the adoption (of the BMP guide) and strengthen the organic supply chain,” Wyard said.

Other keys to preventing organic fraud are requiring that organic grain brokers and traders and ports handling organic grains also be certified. A provision in the current U.S. Farm Bill would change the regulation to require such certification.

“Everyone in the supply chain must be held accountable,” Wyard said.

Reducing dependence on organic grain imports will also help reduce fraud, Wyard said. “We need to seriously increase domestic production of organic grains.”

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