Thirty-six million pounds of organic soybeans shipped to California from Turkey last December were not organic, but conventionally grown soybeans, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The Post broke the story Friday, noting that the soybeans’ fraudulent USDA Organic label caused their value to skyrocket by approximately $4 million.
Around 21 million pounds of the soybeans have already been distributed to customers.
Organic industry watchdog group the Cornucopia Institute called for USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to correct the “chronic pattern of gross incompetence and corruption at the National Organic Program” that led to this fraud in a letter sent Saturday.
“This is the second organic major-league scandal uncovered this month by the Washington Post and it confirms a longstanding pattern of negligence and corruption documented by our researchers,” said Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s co-director.
The Post uncovered two similar grain shipments falsely labeled as organic in the past year. Most of the corn and soy in these shipments was destined to become animal feed for the organic meat and dairy industries. Both of these shipments also passed through Turkey, a country whose organic exports have been heavily criticized by international authorities and whose organic soybean and corn shipments to the United States increased substantially between 2014 and 2016.
Critics say that the system for verifying international shipments of organics is rife with “multiple weaknesses in enforcement” according to the Post, including farmers being allowed to choose their own inspection companies and an overabundance of middlemen between when the commodity is produced and when it is delivered to the seller.
“The U.S. market is the easiest for potentially fraudulent organic products to penetrate because the chances of getting caught here are not very high,” John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing, told the Post.
At least half of organic soybeans, corn, and coffee sold in the United States comes from overseas.
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