Stanford Journal of International Law
American consumers' appetite for organic foods (organics) has dramatically increased since Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990. Because the domestic organic food industry has been unable to meet the growing demand for these products, U.S. groceries have increasingly relied on imported organics. Studies show that 40% of organic foods consumed in the United States are imported from over 100 foreign countries.
To regulate organic food production, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) accredits certifying agents, which in turn certify organic farms and handlers according to U.S. organic standards. Certifying agents can be state agencies or private enterprises, including foreign entities. In 2007, USDA-accredited agents certified 27,000 organic producers worldwide. This certification allows approved foreign products to bear the "USDA Organic" seal and freely enter the U.S. market.
This article evaluates the trustworthiness of the USDA organic certification process. By using China as an example, the article offers a comparative assessment of the quality and safety of both domestically produced and Chinese produced organics in the US. market. In addition, the article discusses the USDA's failure to keep pace with the supervision of certifying agents, especially in China and other foreign countries. The article concludes that the current regulatory framework is not only inadequate to the task of regulating domestic organics, but also incapable of ensuring the integrity of imported organics. Thus, the "USDA Organic" seal misleads consumers.
Chenglin Liu, Is USDA Organic a Seal of Deceit: The Pitfalls of USDA Certified Organics Produced in the United States, China and Beyond, 47 Stan. J. Int’l L. 333 (2011).