USDA warns of fraudulent organic certificates

The US Department of Agriculture has listed 11 businesses allegedly using fraudulent certificates to claim their products are organic.

The businesses are located in eight countries, including Sri Lanka, Ukraine, China, Scotland and the US, with the alleged certification fraud covering crop production, animal feed, handling and processing, as well as packaging, storage and wholesalers.

“Falsely representing products as certified USDA organic violates the law and federal organic regulations. Using fraudulent documents to market, label, or sell non-organic agricultural products as organic is punishable by fines of up to $11,000 for each violation,” the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the National Organic Program (NOP), said on its website. “Certifying agents and organic operations should continue to guard against these practices and practice caution when purchasing products from suppliers.”

The agency noted that the fraudulent certificates may have been created and used without the knowledge of the operator or the certifying agent named in the certificate, adding that this does not necessarily indicate that the named operators or certifying agents were involved in illegal activity. 

According to the USDA, the fraud involved claiming products were certified as organically grown and/or processed in accordance with the NOP/USDA regulation and relative standards.

Among the 11 businesses listed, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and China represented two businesses each, while the other businesses were based in Hungary, Belgium, Dominican Republic, Scotland and the US.

The products falsely claiming to be organic included: extra virgin coconut oil, spices, pork, bananas, animal feed, and various natural health supplements such as whey protein, flaxseed powder, Gingko seed powder, and bee propolis powder.

There was also a variety of fruit products from the alleged Scottish operation, including dried apples, apricots and mangoes, as well as lentils, kidney beans, nuts, vegetable oils and icing sugar.

The US National Organic Program has come under fire recently following claims that foreign products falsely labelled as organic have been able to make it onto the US market, highlighting weaknesses in the US organic monitoring system, and prompting calls for action.

According to the US Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), as much as 60-70 per cent of organic imports may be fraudulent. Organic fraud was estimated to cost US farmers $400m in 2015.

Last month, US import figures were released that suggested countries are selling more organic corn and soybean than they have capacity to produce, hinting at widespread fraud. According to the import data, foreign-produced organic-labelled products increased, with imports of organic soybean increasing 13 per cent and imports of organic corn increasing 5.9 per cent in 2017. 

In a bid to crackdown on US imports of fraudulent organic-labelled goods, legislators introduced a new bill in October last year. The bipartisan legislation – titled the Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act – would seek to provide the NOP with between $15m and $20m a year from 2018 to 2023 to upgrade compliance and enforcement actions in the US and abroad, while an additional $5m would improve tracking of international organic trade and data collection systems to ensure full traceability of imported products.

According to, accredited certifiers have conducted a number of independent compliance investigations over the past five years, in addition to NOP investigations. More than 900 farms, ranches and businesses have had their organic certification suspended or revoked for violations of the USDA organic regulations as a result of these independent investigations. 

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