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USDA bans organic food inspector in China

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program announced Monday that it has reached a settlement agreement with the Organic Crop Improvement Association prohibiting the organization from operating in China.

The agreement allows the Lincoln, Neb.-based association to retain its accreditation for certification in other countries including the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

“It is critical that we maintain the integrity of organic products for consumers,” said Rayne Pegg, administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers the National Organic Program. “All certifiers and operations, domestic or foreign, must be held to the same standards. We will remain vigilant to make sure that products labeled as organic meet the standards prescribed by law.”

In August 2007, the NOP conducted an onsite audit of OCIA and its certified operations in China as a part of the program’s organic accreditation renewal process, according to a USDA release. The audit found that OCIA used inspectors connected to the Chinese government who had a conflict of interest with the certified organic operations. In July 2008, NOP proposed revocation of OCIA’s accreditation in China. OCIA appealed the proposed revocation, and it took until last month for the issue to be resolved.

A New York Times article said the OCIA had shut most of its operations in China last year in anticipation of the USDA’s ban.

The OCIA did not reply to an email request seeking comment.

The Organic Trade Association would not comment specifically on the OCIA, but said in a statement, “OTA supports strong enforcement of the regulation and also oversight of the certification agencies, which the current National Organic Program staff is providing.”

As part of the settlement, OCIA would be able to apply for re-accreditation as a certifying agent in China after one year.

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