Fighting organic fraud – Finger Lakes Times

Posted: July 10, 2017 at 7:42 am


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By MIKE HIBBARD

mhibbard@fltimes.com

PENN YAN There were 392 certified organic farms in New York state in 2005.

That number had jumped to 1,050 by 2015, and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said there are certainly more today as consumer demand continues to increase for organically grown food.

While Schumer applauded that exponential growth during a visit to Penn Yan on Friday, he said that demand has created an issue that is hurting local and New York farmers organic fraud.

Organic farming is a great industry, but its under threat. Like every industry, you are finding people who want to cut corners, Schumer said at the Birkett Mills, which has been in business since the late 1700s and milling organic grain for about 20 years. That is what we are finding now.

Schumer was joined by Penn Yan and Yates County officials, Birkett Mills staff including company President Jeff Gifford, and local organic farmers. Together they called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with the Office of the Inspector General to immediately address organic fraud.

Schumer pointed to the efforts of Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens, pioneers in New York state organic farming who started the movement about 20 years ago in the Penn Yan area. They own Lakeview Organic Grain and attended Fridays event.

Birkett Mills has been around since 1797, when George Washington was president. A lot of our farmers depend on Birkett Mills, he said. Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens are like the George Washingtons of organic farmers in the Finger Lakes.

Agriculture is the backbone of upstate New Yorks economy. Increasingly, organic produce and products are becoming lucrative for producers across Yates County, enabling them to bring jobs and investments to the region. But these producers are threatened by foreign imports that illegally mislabel products and undermine New Yorks farmers. I am demanding that the USDA redouble their efforts and work to stop these producers in their tracks, Schumer added. Consumers must know that when they purchase a product that says certified organic, that they are getting what they paid for. The threat of phony organics entering our domestic market could undermine that confidence.

Schumer pointed to last months Washington Post investigative piece that revealed proof of fraudulent grain shipments being sold in the United States. The report exposed a shipment of 36 million pounds of non-organic soybeans and corn shipped from Ukraine and Turkey to California that were illicitly labeled as USDA organic when they reached the U.S.

The scam reportedly boosted soybean prices by $4 million, while deceiving American consumers and hurting U.S. organic producers. Of the 36 million pounds, more than 21 million pounds had already reached farms and mills by the time authorities acted.

Schumer added that the USDA is aware of dozens of overseas producers who are putting fraudulent organic certificates on their products and selling them at inflated prices. At least two of them are Chinese.

Someone slapped an organic sticker on these products and no one caught it. If consumers stop trusting the organic label, this whole industry here is in jeopardy, he said. There are consumers who buy organic products, like my daughter, who believe in them. USDA is supposed to be the cop on the beat, but they havent been doing enough. Its time for USDA to strengthen its oversight.

According to the 2014 USDA Organic Census, New York state is the third largest state in the nation in the number of organic farms, fourth in the number of organic farm acres and seventh in annual sales. Schumer said the USDAs efforts have not stemmed the tide of non-organic imports and the agency must work with the Office of Inspector General to determine new, innovative ways to address the issue.

Since the 1990 passage of the Organic Foods Production Action, the USDA has had the sole responsibility of certifying that products grown domestically and internationally meet organic standards. When a product is labeled organic, that means that farmers produce the food with methods that maximize soil health, conserve water and reduce air pollution.

Certified organic farms cannot use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or hormones.

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Fighting organic fraud - Finger Lakes Times

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July 10th, 2017 at 7:42 am

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