Jul 8, 2021
Fraud prevention program popular with organic businesses
The Organic Trade Association’s ground-breaking fraud prevention program is getting robust interest from organic businesses as the organic sector readies for the USDA’s upcoming new rules to strengthen oversight of organic imports and the organic supply chain.
Forty organic businesses are currently enrolled in the trade association’s Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program, with another 125 companies beginning the process of enrollment in the benchmark program.
“The organic sector is committed to maintaining the integrity of organic, and we are glad to see companies taking advantage of the valuable tool we’ve developed to help them in their battle against fraud,” Gwendolyn Wyard, vice president of regulatory & technical affairs for the Organic Trade Association, said in a news release. “Our program can get companies ready to comply with the USDA’s new rule once it is finalized and to safeguard the integrity of the USDA Organic seal on their products.”
USDA’s Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) Final Rule is slated for Spring 2022. This action — the largest single piece of rule-making since the implementation of the National Organic Program — will have a game-changing impact on improving oversight of organic systems and reducing the chance of organic fraud.
The Organic Trade Association’s Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions, launched a year ago, is designed to meet the unique needs of the organic supply chain, and is based on buyer responsibility and supplier verification. Companies in the program are provided with the comprehensive Organic Fraud Prevention Guide, which lays out a risk-based approach for developing and implementing a written Organic Fraud Prevention Plan — a requirement of the proposed SOE Rule. A Participant Handbook developed for interested and enrolled companies provides an overview of the program, and the steps required to complete the enrollment process.
In addition to the 40 organic businesses enrolled in the fraud-fighting program, two businesses – Pipeline Foods and Naturepedic Organic Mattresses – have completed the nine-step enrollment process, and submitted their organic fraud prevention plan to their certifier.
Online training courses and more
A key component of the program is an online training course that provides detailed background and instruction on how to carry out an organic fraud vulnerability assessment, and how to implement an effective organic fraud prevention plan. The course, “Developing an Organic Fraud Prevention Plan,” was developed in partnership with the Michigan State University Food Fraud Initiative, and is offered through the Food Fraud Prevention Academy and its Massive Open Online Courses for Food Fraud (MOOC).
“Critical to implementing meaningful organic fraud prevention measures is conducting a vulnerability assessment, because any fraud prevention measures are effective only if they are applied in the right places,” said Wyard. “This gets to the heart of our program.”
USDA also offers anti-fraud courses based on content in the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Fraud Prevention Guide and the food fraud prevention model developed by the Food Fraud Initiative and adopted by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI).
The USDA training package includes a “Preventing the Organic Fraud Opportunity” course and one on “Organic Fraud and the Criminal Mind.” Both courses, offered free through USDA’s Organic Integrity Learning Center, are designed for organic inspectors and certifiers to complement the Organic Trade Association’s program, and to educate them in their evaluation of an Organic Fraud Prevention Plan.
The USDA courses were made possible by a cooperative agreement between the Organic Trade Association and USDA, with the trade association working with Dr. John Spink, the Director of the Food Fraud Initiative and leading expert in food fraud prevention, to develop the courses.
Endorsement from certifiers and organic experts
Certifiers are endorsing Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions by signing on as Supporting Partners to the program. Four certifiers have completed the program trainings and outlined commitments to promote Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions enrollment to their clients and network. Any stakeholder in the organic industry committed to organic integrity and fraud prevention, and not otherwise eligible to enroll directly in the program, is eligible to become a Supporting Partner.
The USDA Strengthening Organic Enforcement Proposed Rule, once finalized, will require that an organic fraud prevention plan be included in a certified organic operation’s Organic Systems Plan. In its proposed rule, USDA cites the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program as an effective private initiative to prevent fraud in the organic supply chain.
Former Deputy Secretary at the USDA National Organic Program Miles McEvoy has also endorsed the program by becoming a Trusted Advisor. Companies enrolled in the program can gain access to McEvoy’s valuable expertise in organic compliance and vulnerability assessment critical control points as they create their organic fraud prevention plan. Any expert in this field is eligible to complete the program trainings and apply to become a Trusted Advisor.
McEvoy says, “There are no shortcuts to verifying organic integrity. Fraud prevention requires all of us to be observant, pay attention to details, note discrepancies, and not accept products that haven’t been fully verified as organic. OTA’s Fraud Prevention Solutions program helps organic producers and handlers to prevent fraud, and improve the quality of the organic control system.”
Leadership and commitment from organic businesses will strengthen the organic supply chain. Organic companies are encouraged to enroll in the Organic Trade Association’s Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program, and be a part of this far-reaching effort to maintain integrity in organic.