OIG Audit Exposes Flaws in USDA Organic Program

By Teaganne Finn

The Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Service will need to make major changes to strengthen its control of international trade arrangements of organic products, an Office of the Inspector General audit said.

The results of the USDA’s National Organic Program audit were released Sept. 18, and found that AMS had some shortcomings. The OIG came back with nine recommendations that need to be completed within the next year.

According to OIG, imports are sometimes fumigated at U.S. ports of entry to prevent pests from entering the country, but up until now AMS was not implementing control of “U.S ports of entry to identify, track, and ensure that treated organic products are not sold, labeled, or represented as organic.” The finding resulted in several recommendations.

One of the requests for AMS was to have Customs and Border Protection update its message system to ensure that officials at the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are notified when organic agricultural imports are treated with NOP-prohibited substances at U.S. ports of entry.

OIG recommended that a Memorandum of Understanding be put into place between AMS and APHIS when products have been treated with fumigants.

The NOP’s response in the audit said they have taken actions to establish control and are working with APHIS to develop mechanisms to identify and audit.

However, according to OIG they could take additional actions “to provide U.S. consumers with assurance that imported products that are sold, labeled, and represented as organic have not come in contact with prohibited substances throughout the production and handling cycles.”

Major Criticisms

The OIG’s other main concerns were that AMS’s process for determining equivalency of organic standards lacked transparency. AMS also doesn’t have the ability to provide reasonable assurance that NOP required documents were reviewed at U.S. ports of entry, to verify that the imported agricultural products labeled as organic were from certified organic foreign farms.

AMS reviewed the audit’s findings and agreed with the recommendations, according to a letter from Bruce Summers, acting administrator at AMS.

The remaining recommendations, according to the OIG audit include:

  •  Developing a plan for creating and implementing procedures for tracking organic products treated with the fumigants.
  •  Developing and implementing a procedure to document and disclose the final resolution letter of all foreign country organic standards identified as having differences from USDA organic standards.
  •  Executing a Memorandum of Understanding between AMS and Customs and Border Protection in reviewing NOP import certificates.
  •  Developing and implementing a plan to verify NOP import certificates at U.S. ports of entry, identify fraudulent import certificates, and capture organic import data.
  •  Developing a performance measurements to collect and analyze the timeliness of onsite reviews for foreign countries that maintain a recognition agreement with the USDA.
  •  Revising the NOP Handbook to include additional requirements that NOP officials conduct onsite audits of foreign countries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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