Monday, November 05, 2007

Watchdogging the organic label

Economists use the term "credence attributes" to describe qualities that the food consumer must take on trust, because it is impossible to verify by inspecting the product in the grocery store. For example, the consumer must trust that the organic label truly reflects adherence to a certain set of standards about production processes and chemical inputs.

Maintaining the credibility of a credence attribute requires a fairly vigorous level of watchdogging. For example, here is a press release from the Government Accountability Project (GAP) last month:

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) requested that the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP) initiate an investigation into violations of organic standards allegedly committed by a mushroom production company based in California. A formal complaint from GAP was submitted earlier today against Golden Gourmet Mushrooms, Inc. (GGM) of San Diego County.

According to documents acquired by GAP, the specialty mushroom company may have violated organic standards and public confidence in several ways, including:
-- The sale of conventional mushroom products as organic
-- The manipulation of organic certification documents
-- Making false claims regarding the nature and origin of its mushroom products.

A copy of the complaint can be viewed on GAP’s Web site (.pdf).

GAP urges the NOP to immediately begin investigating GGM’s alleged violations of the organic standards and whether its supplier, Japan’s Hokuto Corporation (Hokuto), participated in fraudulent practices. GAP further asks the NOP to review the performance of private organic certifier Quality Assurance International (QAI) to determine if it is capable of and intent on fulfilling its obligations as a certifying agent.

“Every violation of the standards reduces public confidence in the organic label. It is critical that the National Organic Program thoroughly investigate complaints and weed out any bad actors now while the program is still young,” says Jacqueline Ostfeld, GAP Food and Drug Safety Officer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article! As editor-in-chief of , ('Your Guide to Food Safety & Healthy, Easy Gourmet Cooking') I spend lots of time investigating the food industry and triple-checking information before I post it for our readers. The "watchdogging..." piece is most helpful for my research. You may want to see our "Organics--what's so special?" on our above-mentioned blog. We are striving for accuracy, since the health of our entire nation depends upon the safety and nutritional quality of our food supply.
Dina Eliash Robinson