The U.S. Department of Agriculture this month entered into the Federal Register a new rule requiring organizations that certify organic producers to annually test residue on at least 5 percent of organic farms. The tests, estimated to cost $500 each, would be paid for by the certifying organizations, not their clients. The rule goes into effect in 2013.
The following is a statement from Mischa Popoff, policy advisor to the Heartland Institute and former advanced organic farm and process inspector.
"The USDA recently announced plans to begin testing 5 percent of the farms and processors it certifies under its decade-old National Organic Program. But in the interests of keeping organic food in America as pure and as nutritious as possible, we at Heartland have to ask: What about the other 95 percent?
"Of the 5 percent of farms and processors the USDA plans to test, officials say they will require that some of them are subjected to pre-harvest testing. But surely it would be advisable to do mostly pre-harvest testing. After all, the benefits of organic production all occur in the field. So what better way to ensure that organic crops and livestock are indeed purer and more nutritious than to do all testing in the field?
"With the exception of genetically modified organisms, almost everything that’s prohibited in organic production dissipates and in many cases becomes undetectable over time. So there’s little point wasting time or money testing organic crops post-harvest. In order to prevent cheating in the organic industry, all testing – not just some of it – must occur prior to harvest.
"Whether it’s herbicides, pesticides, hormones, improperly composted manure, or the big money-maker, synthetic ammonium nitrate, only an unannounced inspection and field test will deter fraud and gross negligence in the multibillion-dollar organic sector. And the concern for potential fraud and gross negligence only grows when one considers the great amount of organic food that’s imported into the United States every year, under USDA oversight, from countries like China, Mexico, and Brazil.
"Consider that Olympic athletes are tested before and during the games, not after. And the good news in the case of organic farming is that doing such tests in the field – 100 percent of the time instead of just 5 percent of the time – will drastically reduce a farmer’s cost of being certified, because field-testing costs about one-tenth what the current system of record-keeping and record-checking costs.