Mar 27, 2020
US added a net 763 organic farms in 2019
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service on March 26 reported numbers of its enforcement activity through the end of the 2019 calendar year.
Enforcement activities are meant to uphold the integrity of the USDA organic seal by holding farms and products to the program’s standards.
Worldwide, certified organic operations grew 44,896 in 2019, a 4.4% increase over 2018, according to the report.
U.S. certified operations grew by 763, reaching 28,257, according to data from the Organic Integrity Database. Non-U.S. certified operations were counted at 16,639.
“This growth demonstrates the continued trust that organic farms, businesses, and consumers have in the USDA organic label,” according to the USDA’s report.
In the 2019 calendar year, the National Organic Program (NOP), had 465 cases in progress, of which the majority, 55%, were uncertified organic claims. Other types of cases included complaints of prohibited practices, pesticide residue, fraud, labeling errors, surveillance, fraudulent certificates, inquiries and prohibited substances.
A total of 487 cases were closed in 2019 – the most cases were closed by voluntary compliance (38%), Administrative actions (15%) or finding there was no violation (21%).
Multiple news outlets have reported on U.S. individuals prosecuted in the summer of 2019 for fraudulently selling grain as organic. The NOP also summarized the activity in its report:
Domestic grain fraud investigations continue to be a significant theme for the NOP. Many hands support the NOP in this enforcement work. In particular, the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has become an important investigative and enforcement contributor advancing the NOP mission. In June 2019, NOP held face-to-face training with more than 40 OIG agents to teach them the organic regulations and NOP’s adverse action approach. In turn, OIG shared case studies and best practices for gathering evidence to support criminal investigations. OIG field agents also provided face-to-face training with domestic certifiers in January 2020.
This collaborative work is directly impacting the organic market. In August 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Iowa announced sentences for four plaintiffs in an organic grain fraud scheme. Four individuals pled guilty to approximately $140 million in fraudulent organic sales of non-organic grains and feedstuffs over several years. The multi-state farms and handling facilities were primarily located in Missouri and Nebraska. In November, a fifth conspirator was sentenced to 22-months in prison, $1 million in asset forfeitures, and a $100,000 fine. These investigations involved the Department of Justice, OIG, and NOP.
In a separate case with OIG, in February 2020, a man was arrested in South Dakota on charges of wire fraud in organic grain and oilseed sales. NOP casework had previously resulted in Page 5 revocations of organic certificates connected to the suspect and had resulted in enforcement action against the operation’s certifier.