Buyer's Guide helps consumers avoid import fraud on organic meat, eggs and dairy

The Cornucopia Institute
The Cornucopia Institute

CORNUCOPIA, WI - In response to consumer concerns after published reports of fraudulent organic grain imports flooding the American market, The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog, has released a web-based Buyer’s Guide that identifies brands of organic dairy products, eggs, and poultry derived from animals that are exclusively fed U.S.-grown grains.

Cornucopia has also published a companion report, Against the Grain: Protecting Organic Shoppers against Import Fraud and Farmers from Unfair Competition, outlining over a decade of neglect by the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). USDA inattention has resulted in approximately half the organic corn and over 80 percent of the organic soybeans fed to domestic animals being imported from China and former Soviet Bloc countries with epidemic levels of commercial fraud.

“Identifying marketplace alternatives for consumers is critical to putting an end to the profiteering perpetrated by agribusinesses that fail to verify the authenticity of organic grains being used to produce their products,” said Mark A. Kastel, Cornucopia’s co director.

The farm policy research group’s release of its mobile-friendly buyer’s guide follows its groundbreaking June 2018 white paper that chronicles how a small number of Turkish-based multibillion-dollar agribusinesses, with production in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Moldova, came to dominate the U.S. organic grain market.

Sham organic imports, commonly used as livestock feed, have made their way into the U.S. accompanied by altered paperwork that represents the corn or soy as organic when it is actually conventionally produced. 

“The economic damage to U.S. organic grain producers is staggering, as they have struggled, in recent years, to compete with cheap imports that are often not even organically produced,” said Anne Ross, a Cornucopia farm policy analyst and the organization’s lead researcher on import issues.

One brand of organic chicken positively highlighted in Cornucopia’s study is Bell and Evans, based in Fredericksburg, Pennsylvania. “Although our chicken is distributed throughout the eastern half of the United States, we are a family-owned business, I grew up in the poultry industry, and we only feed our birds U.S. grains because we feel adamantly about the ability to stand behind the credibility of our products,” said Scott Sechler, the company’s founder and chairman.

The dairy section of the scorecard includes such venerable and highly rated yogurt brands as Butterworks in Vermont and Hawthorne Valley in New York.

“Based on our analysis, domestic organic corn and soybean producers lost over $400 million to dubious organic grain imports from 2015 through 2017,” according to John Bobbe, Executive Director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), an umbrella organization representing organic grain marketing cooperatives in 19 states.

Complicated international supply chains present challenges in investigating sources of fraud, but the public, especially those involved in organic grain markets, can help by using purchasing power to increase pressure on poultry, beef, dairy, and egg operations to use U.S.-grown grain. Cornucopia’s guide also identifies feed operations where farmers and ranchers can procure commodities that do not contain imported grain.