USDA Bans U.S. Organic Inspector in China

USDA Bans U.S. Organic Inspector in China

Agency halts work by a leading group of American inspectors over conflict of interest concerns.

The rise in imported organic food from China requires added inspection, but this week USDA banned an American firm from inspecting products for import into the United States. The move came over concerns about conflict of interest.

The firm - Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) of Nebraska - had been certified by USDA to inspect organic farms, was using Chinese government employees to inspect state-owned farms growing products for the US market with the USDA organic seal.

Several of those products were destined to such stores as Whole Foods, a leading organic retailer. To be compliant with USDA organic rules, inspections are to be conducted by independent third party firms to avoid the conflict of interest. Whole Foods reportedly dropped OCIA as a certifier last year. USDA had been trying to revoke OCIA's authority since 2007, according to media reports, but the organization had appealed the move.

Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., responding to the news, notes she was disappointed that USDA's ban took place nearly two years after the department moved to stop the group. "This is far too long to wait, especially considering it is absolutely essential that USDA uphold the rigorous standards and integrity of the organic food label."

DeLauro notes that the USDA announcement is a reminder that foods labeled 'organic' are not automatically safe. DeLauro is a long-time champion of tougher food safety laws in the U.S. House.

The move won't stop the flow of organic food out of China. Chinese farmers had already started using other USDA-accredited organizations for inspections two years ago when the issues surrounding OCIA occurred. USDA notes that OCIA largely stopped its farm inspection work in China last year. The agency didn't levy any fines against the group.

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