Farmers face organic food fraud charges

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Midwest farmers convicted of fraudulently selling $142 million of grain as organic. Photo by LilacDragonfly from Pexels

The conviction of five Midwestern U.S. farmers of selling non-organic grains as organic intensified growing concerns over organic food fraud.

John Burton, a farmer from Clarksdale, Missouri, pled guilty, Friday, May 10, and was convicted on one count of wire fraud for fraudulently selling $142 million in organic grain.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in a statement, Burton admitted that grain grown on non-organic fields was marketed and sold as organic along with the use of unapproved substances on certified organic grounds.

Ongoing investigation

Three additional farmers from Nebraska pled guilty and were convicted of one count of wire fraud in October 2018 as part of an earlier, broader probe by the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Tom Brennan, James Brennan, and Mike Potter, from Overton, Nebraska, all admitted to growing non-organic grain that they knew was being marketed and sold as organic.

According to the DOJ, from 2010 to 2017, each of the three farmers received more than $2.5 million for that grain.

All four plea deals are related to a case involving Randy Constant, owner of the grain brokerage firm, Jericho Solutions, located in Ossian, Iowa.

Constant, a resident of Chillicothe, Missouri, was convicted on December 20, 2018, of one count of wire fraud for fraudulently selling $142,433,475 worth of non-organic grain as organic.

According to the DOJ, Constant falsely told customers he sold grain grown on his certified organic fields in Nebraska and Missouri.

However, the grains were not organic because he either purchased them from other growers, sprayed certified organic fields with non-GMO substances, or mixed organic grain with the non-organic grain.

As part of his plea deal, Constant agreed to forfeit $128,190,128 in proceeds from the scheme.

The judge set sentencing for Constant, Tom Brennan, James Brennan, and Potter on August 16, 2019. Scheduled sentencing for Burton occurs after preparation of a presentence report, the DOJ says.

All five men face a maximum sentence of 20 years, a $250,000 fine, and up to three years of supervised release following any imprisonment.

Growing problem

A 2017 report by the Washington Post discovered weaknesses in the U.S. Agricultural Department’s ability to verify the chain-of-custody of supposed “organic” grains imported from Eastern Europe.

According to the paper, three shiploads, equating to “millions of pounds of ‘organic’ corn or soybeans,” entered the country during that period.

Those grains, designated as animal feed, have a direct impact on the authenticity of organic food. “Organic eggs, organic milk, organic chicken and organic beef are supposed to come from animals that consume organic feed, an added expense for farmers that contributes to the higher consumer prices on those items,” the Post says.

While a great deal of focus is on the import of fraudulent organic food, the conviction of the five Midwestern farmers indicates the problem is not just with imports but with domestic suppliers as well.

In a nod towards the problem, the Organic Trade Association recently rolled out a plan it had been developing for the past two years. Its Organic Fraud Prevention Solutions program is designed to fight fraud in the global system.

“Fraud in the global organic supply chain poses a significant threat to the integrity of the organic brand,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association, in a statement. “For the past two years, the Organic Trade Association has prioritized significant time and resources into organic fraud prevention solutions. We are fighting fraud on many fronts, including through the 2018 Farm Bill and through private sector initiatives. The more companies that join this industry-driven program, the stronger the organic supply chain will be.”

The organization says the program is not a label, and it does not involve certification or verification. It is merely a quality assurance program in which organic businesses can voluntarily enroll to help minimize or eliminate organic food fraud both inside and outside of the United States.harges

Enso Beauty, a 100% USDA certified organic skincare line, launches

Enso Beauty skincare

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. –  The new Enso Beauty skincare line just hit the market bearing the USDA Organic logo certifying that its ingredients are 100 percent natural and organic.

Adria Andrews, who started the company with her husband Phillip, says the products were developed due to her skin sensitivity. According to the company’s website, Adria recognizes her husband’s knowledge of plants and herbs as the root of the new line: “Passionate about organic ingredients for home cooking and his vegetable gardening projects, he had amassed knowledge on botanical specimens and extensively studied Earth-grown ingredients. I parlayed Philip’s wisdom, and together we created Enso Beauty.”

Enso Beauty is free from GMOs, parabens, palm oil, hydrogenation, potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate and toxic preservatives, the company says, and uses Indian Gooseberry, an anti-aging extract, as its first ingredient in the following products:
• Amla Antioxidant C Serum
• Amla Repair C Balm
• Amla Revitalizing C Eye Cream
• Amla Sensitive Skin Cleanser
• The Amla Antioxidant C Mist contains rose flower water, witch hazel extract then Amla extract.

Visit ensobeautyco.com for more information.

FoodChain ID expands into organic certification

FoodChain ID

FAIRFIELD, Iowa – Organic certification options were recently added to FoodChain ID’s portfolio of services based on client requests for the ability to consolidate the certification process into a one-stop approach.

FoodChain ID, formerly known as Global ID Group, is one of the largest global entities in food safety, testing, and verification and it said that nearly half of its non-GMO clients simultaneously certify as organic, making it a significant growth area for the company.

“We’re excited to add more integrated solutions to our portfolio of services,” said David Carter general manager, FoodChain ID. “Growing consumer and regulatory pressure to clearly identify what is, and isn’t, in the foods we eat has many of our clients rapidly seeking providers that can streamline certification and verification services in a way that reduces overhead and speeds their time to market.”

The company acquired two companies to aid in its ability to offer global certification services including Bioagricert, a global company that was among the first to market in the certification of organic foods, in December 2017 and more recently Quality Partner, a premier food safety testing, inspections and certification company serving France and the Benelux regions of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Benelux region is a priority growth market for Global ID with more than USD 42Bn in revenue in the food market. QP has over 3,000 clients in Europe and is a recognized market leader.

With more than 33 years of expertise in the organic sector, Bioagricert is one of the top, global, NOP-certifying bodies, having certified over 900 operations, the company said.

“As an organic certification pioneer, Bioagricert’s expertise in organic certification, combined with FoodChain ID’s Non-GMO verification expertise and SupplyTrak mapping and label verification system, further strengthens FoodChain ID’s leadership position in providing independent, third-party labeling claims,” Carter added.

QP carries out quality control activities in the agriculture, food processing, retail and catering sectors with a portfolio of testing, inspection, certification, and technical services. QP’s testing business focuses on food microbiology testing, metagenomics, and biomarker testing; its certification offerings include Organic, FSSC 22000, ISO22000, GlobalGAP and Belgian standards. QP also offers technical and training services to retailers and manufacturers.

“The addition of Quality Partner further expands FoodChain ID’s international footprint and leadership position,” said Brad Riemenapp, CEO of Global ID. “QP brings us access to its broad and attractive client base and 18 years of expertise in food safety testing, inspections, and certification. This acquisition is a further step in developing Global ID’s presence in organic certification, following the acquisition of Bioagricert in December 2017. We are excited to enter the Benelux region with the completion of this acquisition.”

FoodChain ID, which serves over 30,000 clients in more than 100 countries, is a portfolio company of Paine Schwartz Partners, a private equity firm engaging in sustainable food chain investing.