Federal organic fraud in America
by Mischa Popoff and Jay Lehr, Heartland Institute
$9.1 million might seem like a rounding error for Washington DC. But what these 43 organic staffers actually did will surprise you.
Did they weed out fraud, make organic food better and encourage more domestic organic production? Sadly, no, no and no.
Organic imports from countries like China and Turkey grew steadily during Obama’s years, a trend that, not surprisingly, coincided with increased incidents of organic food-borne illnesses. Alas, Obama tripled the budget and staffing at the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), but failed to require field testing. As such, roughly 40% of the organic food sold in America tested positive for prohibited pesticide residue during Obama’s years, in 2 separate studies by the USDA.
Just 0.7 percent of American farmland is organic, and yet, organic sales accounted for 4 percent of total food sales, more than 5-times the amount of land under organic management! This means American grocery retailers now rely on imported organic food 80 percent of the time.
The inescapable conclusion: Obama’s tripling of budget and staff at the NOP did absolutely nothing to help American organic farmers. In fact, it hurt them.
But, worse than this embarrassing organic trade imbalance is the fact that organic foods accounted for a whopping 7 percent of all food recalls in America last year according to the New York Times, a media outlet generally supportive of Obama and the organic industry. This is almost double what one would expect according to organic sales, 10-times what one would expect from America’s flatlining organic acreage!
Miles McEvoy (Obama’s man in charge of America’s organic program) claims increases were necessary to ensure the integrity of the USDA-certified “Organic” label, and yet, even with a new Secretary of Agriculture in place and not a single measurable improvement to America’s organic program, he remains in command at the NOP.
Only organic end-product is tested under McEvoy, and just 5% of the time at that, and only for pesticides, not for pathogens from manure, thus accounting for the organic industry’s shamefully high record of food-borne illness outbreaks. The only across-the-board organic testing is for GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), even though no one anywhere in the world, not human or animal, has ever fallen ill from consuming GMO foods.
So where did all that money go if not to field testing? Perhaps to fund the hundreds of anti-modern-farming NGOs that run a constant barrage of anti-GMO, anti-pesticide, anti-fertilizer, anti-animal-confinement campaigns? On that question, there are two more troubling points to make.
First, none of the 43 people employed in the USDA’s organic office perform organic inspections. This is left to for-profit certifying businesses that grant USDA organic certification to farmers, processors, etc., in exchange for which they receive anywhere between 1½ to 3% of gross revenue from their clients. They only collect royalties on shipments they approve, while being left to decide whose products they’re going to test for pesticides, just 5% of the time.
Second, it turns out $9.1 million per-annum to run the office is just the tip of this organic iceberg. Another quarter of a billion ($256 million to be exact) was spent by The Obama Administration on subsidies to the American organic industry.
Make no mistake. This was not yet another program gone awry in the nation’s capital. The price-tag for America’s new F-35 fighter is, unfortunately, a typical example of such incompetence and waste. But if the F-35 flew backwards instead of forwards, and Obama knew about it for the last 8 years and funded it anyway, that’d be fraud. Fraud against American organic farmers, American consumers of organic food, and taxpayers.
Let’s hope the Trump administration reverses this trend.
Mischa Popoff is a Policy Advisor at The Heartland Institute, and is the author of Is it Organic? The inside story of the organic industry. Jay Lehr is the Science Director at the Heartland Institute and is the author of more than 1,000 magazine and journal articles and 30 books.