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Organic Trade Association Forms Anti-Fraud Task Force

The recent detection of fraudulent organic grains from Turkey in the U.S. has prompted the Organic Trade Association (OTA) to form a task force to develop a best-practices guide for the private sector in an effort to crack down on future incidents.

The OTA said the Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force is perhaps the largest of its kind ever created by the OTA and will be made up of diverse industry representatives split up into subgroups.

Gwendolyn Wyard, OTA VP of regulatory and technical affairs, says the task force is one of many ways the association is tackling organic fraud. She also notes the importance of safeguarding value for the industry and retaining consumer trust as organic food sales continue to grow.

An article published in May in The Washington Post highlighted how conventionally grown soybeans originating in the Ukraine and then re-exported to the U.S. from Turkey were labeled as “organic.” The National Organic Program investigated the issue and revoked the offending company’s certification. However, Wyard explains how the incident revealed a “major vulnerability in the supply chain.”

“We want to take a larger view and look at supply chains in general for any type of product and really examine the situation,” she said.

The task force’s mandate is to develop a best-practices guide that will be used by the trade in managing and verifying global supply chain integrity. The guide will include three sections: risk assessment, mitigation measures and an alert system.

“We understand that an industry-developed, industry-used best-practices guide is not going to solve the entire problem—this is just one of many things that we’re doing,” Wyard said. “But we think that in terms of trade, while we’re pursuing an increased budget in the 2018 Farm Bill for the National Organic Program or we’re looking at regulatory changes that could tighten up the system…we can also bring together companies representing various sectors with years and years of experience and we can look at supply chains. Where are the gaps, and where are the constraints?”

Wyard is chairing the task force, which is made up of about 35 OTA members, including farmers, processors, retailers, consultants and certifiers. They will look at all categories of organic products, including fruits and vegetables.

The group recently held its introductory meeting, and Wyard says it will work through the summer with the goal of coming up with a first draft in September. The next phase will be adoption and implementation of the guide.

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