Baldwin introduces organic import legislation

Wisconsin State Farmer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin introduced legislation this week to combat imports of fraudulent organic products that undercut American farmers, in response to media reports and recommendations from the USDA Inspector General. Baldwin’s legislation would protect U.S. consumers and farmers to ensure that all products marketed as organic uphold the strong standards necessary to bear that seal.  

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin

“Wisconsin is home to the second-largest number of organic farms in the country, and they are a strong driver of our state’s agricultural economy,” said Senator Baldwin. “Our farmers work extremely hard to make sure their products meet the strict requirements of the USDA organic standard, and we must make sure that all organic products sold in the U.S. meet those same rigorous standards. This reform is about leveling the playing field to help American farmers and standing up for American consumers to ensure they are getting the high quality, organic food products they expect.”

In the past year, reports by the Washington Post, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the USDA Office of the Inspector General have revealed concerns about the integrity of agricultural products imported into the United States to be sold as organic.

In their May 2017 article, the Washington Post reported on substantial fraud in imported grain from Turkey destined to be sold as organic in the United States. Fraudulent organic imports have the potential to seriously and unfairly damage the strong reputation of organic products and undercut sales of domestically produced organic products, posing a threat to U.S. farmers and consumers alike.

Senator Baldwin’s Organic Farmer and Consumer Protection Act would take on these unfair trading practices and update protections against fraud.

The legislation works to ensure that all organic products admitted at ports of entry in United States are authentic and to prohibit the entry of products labeled as organic that do not meet National Organic Program standards.

It also addresses the threat that fraudulent imported organic products pose to U.S. farmers and consumers and ensures that farmers importing products to the U.S. must abide by robust organic production standards, just like domestic organic farmers.

“The National Organic Coalition recognizes the urgent need to modernize and strengthen USDA oversight of organic products to prevent fraud and make sure that everyone in the supply chain is playing by the same rules” said Abby Youngblood, Executive Director of the National Organic Coalition.

Youngblood says the bill will provide the USDA’s National Organic Program with additional authorities and resources to crack down on fraudulent organic imports.

"The bill is critical to both farmers, especially those who are being harmed by fraudulent imports, as well as consumers, whose trust in the organic seal depends on effective enforcement of clear and consistent standards across the board,” Youngblood said.

For organic to advance, it is critical that we protect organic’s integrity, said Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association.

"Today’s organic industry operates in a growing global market. We have to modernize and get up to speed to prevent organic fraud and to ensure that every stakeholder in the organic chain is playing by the rules, and this bill takes important steps towards making that happen,” Batcha said.

Organic Valley CEO Melissa Hughes said the policy will allow USDA to be more effective in investigating, tracking, and executing enforcement against those who might try and cheat the US organic regulations.

"Organic agriculture is important to Wisconsin’s state economy and this legislation helps respond to threats that could compromise the integrity of organic," Hughes said.  "Consumers trust organic and that is a trust we have built over the years."

Organic grain farmer Sandy Syburg applaud Baldwin for introducing the legislation.

"Ensuring organic integrity is key to my livelihood and key to the relationship we in organic agriculture have with consumers," said Syburg, Organic Valley Grower Pool Member from Oconomowoc. "The USDA organic seal means real standards, and real consequences, if you don’t follow the regulations. This Act improves that reality.”