WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Sept. 10 revoked
accreditation of the California Organic Farmers Association as an organic
certifying agent after the department spent three years wrangling with the
organization to correct violations.
The USDA's National Organic Program has the responsibility to ensure organic
products meet uniform standards and sets certification standards that organic
production and handling operations must meet to become USDA-accredited
In July 2008, the NOP proposed revoking COFA’s accreditation for three years
after a 2007 audit uncovered 12 noncompliant items during document
reviews, 10 of which were not corrected by the firm, the USDA said in a Sept.
10 press statement.
Founded in 1997, the California company certified a range of organic
products, mainly in California, from tree fruits to beef.
COFA appealed USDA’s decision, which the administrator of the Agricultural
Marketing Service denied Oct. 8, 2009, and COFA last month withdrew its
request for a formal administrative proceeding hearing.
One of the items for which COFA was cited was conflict-of-interest concerns.
According to the 2009 AMS appeals decision, one of COFA’s certification
members participated in the file review for the client of a raisin processing
facility for which he held a partial interest.
The USDA also charged COFA with not sending inspection reports to its clients
and failing to review organic system handling plans, both of which are
required under the National Organic Program.
The USDA organic program has come under close scrutiny in recent months
after a USDA Inspector General report found the agency was not doing
enough to police certifying agents.
The latest action is more evidence that the USDA is stepping up enforcement
of the NOP, said Barbara Haumann, spokesperson for the Organic Trade
She said that the program is being scrutinized and the USDA is making sure
the program is being implemented correctly.
In the meantime, the California organic producers and handlers certified by
COFA are now being inspected and certified by other accredited certifying
agents, said USDA.