IFOAM – Organics International is extremely concerned about the litigation against the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated by an organic farmer in the USA.
The lawsuit alleges that group certification of organic farmers is being used to cover up fraudulent practices and create an uneven playing field between organic American farmers who have an individual responsibility for certification and organic farmers organised in producer groups that are subject to Internal Control Systems (ICSs).
It questions whether USDA has the authority to delegate the responsibility of inspecting every farm every year and questions whether the new regulation provides for an adequate number of third-party inspections of producer group members to meet the intent of the organic legislation.
The litigation highlights widespread misunderstanding about the role and function of grower group certification, which we seek to clarify in the explainer below.
IFOAM - Organics International considers group certification a vital tool for ensuring millions of organic farmers around the world can access global markets whilst ensuring the robust integrity of the products produced. We understand that the USDA’s new regulation for producer groups differs from both the recent EU legislation and IFOAM Norms for grower groups in a few ways, but still support the regulatory recognition of producer groups in the USDA rule .
Grower groups play a key role in supporting organic farming and provide organic market access for millions of honest, hard-working smallholder farmers that care for the land and provide ecological benefits. As a result, they should be considered a strong force for good in rapidly scaling climate and nature-friendly farming that mitigates and addresses the biggest crises of our times.
We also recognise the crucial importance of robust governance of ICS. The oversight process for grower groups is different to the process for individual farmers. An appropriate level of rigour must be maintained in both approaches.
IFOAM believes there is no place for fraud in the organic sector.
The allegations made in the complaint deserve a thorough investigation using the stringent processes built into organic guarantee systems designed to detect and tackle fraud where it occurs. If fraud is uncovered, those perpetrating it should be dealt with to the full extent of the law to protect the integrity and reputation of organic agriculture worldwide.
The organic sector needs to strike a balance between a global guarantee system that respects diversity of farming contexts and market needs worldwide. We are proud of the pioneering work that the organic sector has achieved in this area so far. We caution any individual country or region against taking action that has severe consequences far beyond their shores, especially when the proposed remedy does not appear to tackle the root cause.
Now is the time for organic farmers world-wide to unite in a common cause.
For more information on grower group certification read the summary below and/or visit our dedicated page.