Three Nebraska farmers have pleaded guilty to charges of fraud stemming from the sale of grain misrepresented as organic. According to a Department of Justice press release, the men "admitted to growing grain between 2010 and 2017 that was not organic. Each further admitted that they knew the grain was being marketed and sold as organic, even though it was not in fact organically grown. The charging documents allege that, during the 2010 to 2017 period, each of the three farmers received more than $2.5 million for grain marketed as organic." Each defendant faces a possible 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program (ERSP) has determined that Green Chef Inc. cannot support some of its claims about organic food in its meal-kit deliveries, which it marketed as containing 90 percent or more organic ingredients. ERSP found that the use of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic seal "inaccurately communicated that Green Chef meal kits were entirely organic, or contained almost all organic ingredients." The board also found that Green Chef could not corroborate its claim that it delivered the most organic ingredients when compared to other meal-kit companies. Green Chef indicated that it would change its marketing and work with its certified-organic supplier to establish appropriate language.
A plaintiff has filed two putative class actions alleging the manufacturers of “organic salt" violate consumer-protection laws against deceptive advertising because salt is an inorganic mineral that “cannot be identified as organic” pursuant to the National Organic Program. Garcia v. HimalaSalt-Sustainable Sourcing, LLC, No. 18-7410 (C.D. Cal., filed August 23, 2018); Garcia v. Frontier Natural Prods. Coop., No. 18-7457 (C.D. Cal., filed August 24, 2018). In both complaints, the plaintiff alleges that she paid a premium for the products—HimalaSalt's Himalayan salt and Simply Organic's flavored salts—because she believed them to be "more healthful than regular salt." Claiming violations of California’s consumer-protection statutes, the plaintiff seeks class certification, injunctive relief, restitution, damages and attorney’s fees in both cases.
The New York Times has published an article exploring the use of the term "organic" to describe food sold in restaurants, which are not required to undergo the same certification process as farms and food companies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not certify restaurants and does not plan to change that policy, an agency spokesperson reportedly told the Times. Restaurants that claim to be organic can be certified by third-party organizations, but certification can require "meticulous record keeping, extensive staff training on organic rules, fees in the thousands of dollars and lengthy inspections that involve scrutiny of everything from produce invoices to cleaning materials."
The Cornucopia Institute has released "The Turkish Infiltration of the U.S. Organic Grain Market: How Failed Enforcement and Ineffective Regulations Made the U.S. Ripe for Fraud and Organized Crime," a report arguing that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed to "curb the infiltration of questionable organic grain imports" into the U.S. food supply. The report alleges that shipments of grain have arrived from Turkey, Russia, Moldova and Kazakhstan that were purportedly sourced from countries that do not have sufficient organic acreage to produce the amount of imported organic grains. The report accompanies a Cornucopia letter urging Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to "implement protocols and procedures to require testing of any bulk shipment of 'organic' grain that meets minimum volume or monetary value thresholds and is presented for import at ports, docks, and border crossings of the United States." "We again urge the USDA to engage in emergency…
A California appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that infant formula was mislabeled because it contained synthetic ingredients, ruling that the plaintiff's state law claim was preempted by the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA). Organic Consumers Assoc. v. Honest Co. Inc., No. B280836 (Cal. App. Ct., entered June 12, 2018). The advocacy group alleged that the formula contains synthetic ingredients not permitted in organic products under OFPA, thus violating the California Organic Products Act (COPA). "Association’s complaint does not allege that Honest is selling its premium infant formula without having gone through the organic certification process," the court found. "Nor are there any allegations of misconduct by Honest in obtaining or using its organic certification. Rather, the gravamen of Association’s single cause of action under the COPA is that Honest is labeling as organic infant formula that is not in fact organic." The court found this claim preempted by federal law. "If, as Association…
A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging that the National List's sunset review process violates the Administrative Procedures Act. Ctr. for Food Safety v. Perdue, No. 15-1590 (N.D. Cal., entered May 24, 2018). The court found that the notice promulgating the alteration of the review process was not a final action because it did not “alter any criteria or standards for the evaluation of a particular substance." The challenge further presented ripeness issues because the harms, such as the inclusion of certain compounds in organic foods, may never materialize, the court noted. The notice does not predetermine the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) decision to renew or remove a substance, the court held, and the plaintiffs are not precluded from later asserting harms from an “allegedly wrongful renewal. Plaintiffs must accordingly await that decision for the Court to properly review USDA’s actions,” the court concluded.
A group of advocacy organizations has sent a letter asking the leaders of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry to "fully support organic agriculture in the Farm Bill and to oppose any changes that would undermine the organic standards and the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB)." The organizations urge the committee to refrain from changing the board's authority or composition, which could "harm the integrity of the organic program, undermine consumer trust in the organic label, and severely damage the reputation of the industry as a whole." The letter also includes a number of requests to fund various organic-farming programs.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has announced a program that "provides organic businesses with a risk-based approach for developing and implementing a written strategic plan to assure the authenticity of organic products." Each of the pilot program's participants "will concentrate on one product or ingredient" or "a specific location" then seek feedback from other stakeholders in the supply chain, according to OTA's press release. The plan will focus on (i) "identifying and assessing specific weaknesses or vulnerabilities in their business that pose the most risk of fraud"; (ii) "identifying and taking measures to reduce those vulnerabilities to deter fraud"; (iii) "establishing a monitoring program to ensure the fraud prevention measures are in place"; and (iv) "developing a complaint system to be used when fraud is suspected or detected."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the termination of a rulemaking proceeding that "proposed to establish a national research and promotion program for certified organic products under authority of the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996." The Organic Trade Association proposed the program in 2015, and USDA accepted comments on the proposal in 2017. "In response to the proposed rule, USDA received almost 15,000 comments," according to the announcement. "The comments revealed that there is a split within the industry in terms of support for the proposed program. While some comments voiced support for a collective industry program, other comments stated that industry was not aligned in backing the proposal. Opponents raised concerns about the proposed program, including how the de minimis level would eliminate a majority of organic farmers from the program; the disproportionate impact on high value commodities as assessments would be tied to…