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Pundit’s Mailbag — Legality Of CCOF’s ‘Spiked’ Fertilizer Actions Questioned

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 6, 2009

To date we have run four substantial pieces analyzing the controversy surrounding California Certified Organic Farmers and its decision not to require recalls and not to reclassify land that had been treated with synthetic fertilizer as transitional:

  1. ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Raises Consumer Doubts About Organic Definition,
  2. Pundit’s Mailbag — Organic Industry’s ‘Situational’ Standard
  3. Pundit’s Mailbag — As ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Investigation Widen, Potential Grows For Weaker Consumer Confidence In All Fresh Produce,
  4. Pundit’s Mailbag — CCOF Speaks Out On ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer

Now, in response to the last of those pieces in which Jane Baker, Director of Sales and Marketing for California Certified Organic Farmers, was kind enough to explain and defend CCOF and its actions, we received a number of meaningful letters. We will save some for another day but it seemed very worthwhile to review two very important letters.

The first comes from Lynn Moorer, who was the Director of Operations and General Counsel for the Organic Crop Improvement Association. The other comes from Sam Welsch, formerly the Executive Director of the Organic Crop Improvement Association and now the President of the certification organization he founded, OneCert, which, among other things, claims it is the only US certification agency with an office in India.

The two of them had a dispute with the board of OCIA that seems to have revolved around the role of the board as a policy-maker as opposed to a manager. That dispute led to their dismissal. But their passion for all things organic has never been disputed.

What is significant about their letters is that both are most unquestionably organic advocates:

Your analysis and commentary regarding CCOF’s response to the spiked organic fertilizer scandal hits the mark exactly.

CCOF’s explanation of its “balanced decision” not to require the land which had prohibited substances applied to it to be removed from organic production for three years, as required by the National Organic Program, demonstrates CCOF’s continued culpability in this scandal.

Either the products labeled as “certified organic” meet the USDA’s National Organic Standards or they don’t.

Whether or not the farmers knew that the fertilizer they were using was spiked with prohibited substances is irrelevant with respect to meeting the organic standards.

CCOF is not legally allowed to try to create some new mushy, middle-ground standard while ignoring the NOS.

CCOF’s continued refusal to require that the affected land be taken out of organic production indicates to me that a product claiming to be organic which bears CCOF’s name or seal cannot be trusted.

CCOF’s refusal is also grounds to have the USDA revoke its accreditation as a certifying agent for organic products under the NOP.

— Lynn Moorer
Lincoln, Nebraska

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -

I have appreciated your perspective and analysis of CCOF’s unwillingness to actually enforce the NOP regulations related to application of prohibited substances to land that produces organic crops.

I wanted to let you know that I am sharing your critique of CCOF with other certifiers — particularly point #3 from your response to the letter from CCOF.

Please give me a call anytime if you want to hear from a certifier who sees the rule as something that can be applied as it is written and does not like to see other certifiers weakening our collective credibility by failing to take difficult decisions when necessary.

— Sam Welsch, President
OneCert, Inc.
Lincoln, Nebraska

So there we have it. Two passionate advocates of organic, both knowledgeable as to the law (Lynn is an attorney), and what are they saying? Well the lawyer puts it this way:

Either the products labeled as “certified organic” meet the USDA’s National Organic Standards or they don’t.

Whether or not the farmers knew that the fertilizer they were using was spiked with prohibited substances is irrelevant with respect to the meeting the organic standards.

CCOF is not legally allowed to try to create some new mushy, middle-ground standard while ignoring the NOS.

CCOF’s continued refusal to require that the affected land be taken out of organic production indicates to me that a product claiming to be organic which bears CCOF’s name or seal cannot be trusted.

CCOF’s refusal is also grounds to have the USDA revoke its accreditation as a certifying agent for organic products under the NOP.

One wonders what USDA intends to do about this dispute.

For the industry the question is this: If a consumer as passionately devoted to organics as Lynn Moorer starts to feel that the CCOF certification cannot be trusted, can that possibly be good for the organic movement?

Many thanks to Lynn Moorer and Sam Welsch for sharing their thoughts with the industry.

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