USDA pulls the plug on organic certifying firm in China
by Joan Murphy | June 15, 2010
WASHINGTON -- One of the larger organic certifying companies was banned
from operating in China June 14 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture
found that the company used inspectors employed by the Chinese
government for third-party inspections.
The latest action comes after a two-year probe into the company. Starting in
August 2007, USDA conducted an on-site audit of the Organic Crop
Improvement Association in China and found that it used inspectors
connected to the Chinese government to police government-owned farms.
Farms are supposed to be checked by independent auditors under USDA rules.
In July 2008, USDA proposed revoking the Organic Crop Improvement
Association's accreditation in China, but the association settled the charges
with USDA this month.
As part of the settlement, the association would be able to apply for re-
accreditation as a certifying agent in China after one year. The association
retains its accreditation for certification in other countries including the
United States, Canada and Mexico.
The company said it is one of the larger organic certification agencies in the
world and was the first international certification body to operate in China in
1995. China exports organic tea, soybeans, vegetables and cereals, according
to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements.
"It is critical that we maintain the integrity of organic products for
consumers," Rayne Pegg, Agriculture Marketing Services administrator, said in
a June 14 press statement. "All certifiers and operations, domestic or foreign,
must be held to the same standards. We will remain vigilant to make sure that
products labeled as organic meet the standards prescribed by law."
USDA said it plans to expand oversight of foreign certifying agents and
But U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) chastised USDA for taking too long to act
to ban the company in China.
"It is very disappointing that USDA's ban on the Organic Crop Improvement
Association from operating in China is occurring nearly two years after the
department attempted to initiate the ban," she said. "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."