Rice: Fraud in Organic Ag Imports is Focus of Proposed House Bill

Young rice, pre-flood. ©Debra L Ferguson Stock Photography

Representative John Faso (R-NY) has introduced a bill that addresses fraudulent organic agricultural imports and proposes to increase funding to the National Organic Program (NOP) for oversight and technology upgrades. USA Rice has continually raised the issue of fraudulent organic rice imports with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration because they are harmful to domestic organic rice producers.

The bill would require the NOP to provide yearly reports to Congress on the progress of the initiative, and is intended to protect the integrity of the USDA organic label, increase consumer trust, and protect the interests of U.S. organic farmers who follow regulations.

“Representative Faso’s bill is a big step forward in addressing fraudulent labeling of non-organic products,” said Frank Leach, USA Rice manager of government affairs.  “Additional resources and technology for inspectors will boost consumer trust and program integrity, and protect our farmers.”

Sales of organic food reached a record $43 billion in 2017, and the industry is growing at a rate of almost 10 percent per year, according to Faso.  As demand for organic products in the U.S. increases, so have attempts to pass fake organics off as the real thing.  In 2017 alone, the USDA eliminated 42 fraudulent certificates from the organic supply chain that originated in countries including Viet Nam, Denmark, and Turkey.

The consequences to U.S. organic farmers, who must comply with additional certification to have their products authenticated as organic by the USDA, can be serious.  Fraudulent organic imports create unfair competition in the U.S. marketplace and undermine consumer confidence in organic brands, which ultimately hurts U.S. organic farmers.

The NOP, which is largely responsible for regulating organic certificates, has not kept pace with these issues.  Regulation and oversight have lagged behind in comparison to how rapidly the organic industry has grown, and Faso’s bill, also known as The Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act of 2017, aims to remedy that disparity.

The bill seeks to modernize the NOP’s record-keeping and tracking tools in order to improve their ability to regulate, oversee, and trace organic imports from their origins all the way to the U.S. market, giving the agency authority over any certifying agent operating in a foreign country.

“Imports of organic rice products have surged in recent years and we are convinced that many of these are fraudulent and do not comply with NOP standards,” said John Hasbrook, USA Rice Foodservice Subcommittee Chairman.  “It is impacting our profitability and the integrity of our organic rice production.  We support Representative’s Faso’s bill and all steps to combat these illegal imports.”

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