Nine people dead. Hundreds sick. Thousands of products recalled. Even the Girl Scouts, with one quarter of their cookies containing peanut, will take a hit from the salmonella outbreak traced to the Peanut Corporation of America.
Last week, Barbara C. Robinson, acting director of the National Organic Program, issued a directive to certifiers: "Effective immediately, certifying agents are obliged to report violations of health or safety to the appropriate local, state or federal officials. A copy of all such reporting shall be forwarded to the National Organic Program. Further, organic certification shall not be granted or continued when current health or safety inspections have not been granted or renewed for the facility."
Robinson noted that while the NOP is not a health or safety program, no operation can demonstrate compliance if the operation fails to comply with the pest-management practice standard. "For example, while we do not expect organic inspectors to be able to detect salmonella or other pathogens, their potential sources should be obvious from such evidence as bird, rodent and other animal feces or other pest infestations."
The Organic Trade Association commended the NOP's effort. "The organic industry takes these food safety alerts seriously and is concerned for those affected," said OTA Executive Director Christine Bushway in a release. "This, however, is not an organic issue, but rather one that is food industry-wide. Peanut Corporation of America's track record of sub-par food safety controls and apparent woeful disregard for the public health is tragic."
In its latest statement on the recall, the OTA reminds the public that "the way organic foods are grown and processed is among the most closely monitored food systems in the world."