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At Rizhao Huasai Foodstuffs Co., in China's Shandong province, sales
official Cui Min said workers sometimes use a fertilizer mix that includes
human waste on their crops. It's a common practice in China but a clear
violation of the USDA rules.
Mr. See, whose company certified Rizhao Huasai, said workers there signed
an affidavit stating they follow the rules, including those regarding
Simply trusting the word of a farmer might not be an adequate failsafe,
said Mr. Gale, of the USDA.
In China, "there have always been laws and regulations on the books, but
you find a way around them," he said.
Mutsumi Sakuyoshi, a Japanese inspector who has checked Chinese soybean
fields for many of the world's largest certifiers, said she confronted one
farm's workers after finding an empty plastic bag of herbicide.
Workers told her wind must have blown it from a neighbor's field.
Another farmer gave her an affidavit stating the land under inspection
hadn't been used for at least three years. Ms. Sakuyoshi found the
government official who stamped it and questioned its accuracy.
"He said, 'No. I don't know. I don't care. They just asked me to stamp it,
so I stamped it,' " she said.
Mr. See said American farmers are more skeptical of Chinese organics
because they're a competitive threat to domestic producers.
"I wouldn't say there's probably never any problem with what OCIA has
on in China, but we find problems all around the world, even in the U.S.,"
Even when standards are upheld, there are concerns throughout the industry
that rules are unclear.
One of many examples is a rule that livestock must have "access to
pasture." It doesn't say how much, for how long, or how much of a cow's
meal has to come from leisurely munching.
Big dairies, such as Aurora Organic Dairy and Horizon Organic, were
criticized by activist groups for running "industrial-scale"
where they said cows rarely roamed on acres of dry, stubbly grass. Both
companies insist their cows do graze and meet the requirements. Both have
already added pasture.
The debate triggered boycotts and led to a lengthy discussion during the
Dean Foods shareholders meeting in Dallas in May.
The National Organic Standards Board stepped in and offered more detail,
including a provision that cows must be on pasture for at least 120 days
each year. It's now up to the USDA whether to make the recommendation law.
Representatives of both dairies said they support the rule's precision.
Chris Grotegut is a farmer in the Texas Panhandle who grows corn, wheat,
soybeans and other organic crops used in products distributed nationally.
He said enforcing clear rules is the only way to make consumers trust the
"That is a concern ... that credibility is maintained and people don't
at [organics] as a way to turn a conventional product into a fast buck to
cheat the system."
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Here are a few examples of potential violations taken from hundreds of
certifier audits and complaints provided by the USDA. The agency has not
been able to provide records of confirmed violations.
A company in Italy that produces butter and cheese where dairy cows are
described eating organic feed not certified by the USDA
A certifier in Idaho that sent inspectors with little to no experience
certifying farms, where they overlooked potential violations
A California seed company listed using synthetic fungicide not allowed
under USDA rules in processing seeds
A brewery in Berkeley, Calif., distributing organic beer made without
Beef from a Michigan farm sold as organic though it was processed at a
facility that was not organic
A Georgia company selling boxes of pecans labeled organic that contained a
mix of organic and nonorganic nuts
A company in Florida selling shrimp and fish labeled as USDA-certified
organic. No seafood is allowed to carry the organic label
A Michigan farm advertising beef and buffalo meat as organic, though the
farm was never certified. Missing bees create a buzz
Organic Vegetable and Crop Outreach Specialist
Michigan State University
C.S. Mott Sustainable Food Systems
303 Natural Resources Bldg.
East Lansing, MI 48824
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