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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 certifying agents.

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 Association.

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.