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Secret Shopper: Does organic produce from other countries meet USDA standards?Secret Shopper: Does organic produce from other countries meet USDA standards?

The Natural Foods Merchandiser Secret Shopper went to natural foods store in the Midwest to explore whether imported produce should be trusted. Here's what we learned.

NFM Staff

September 28, 2014

2 Min Read
Secret Shopper: Does organic produce from other countries meet USDA standards?

NFM: I'm noticing more organic produce from other countries. How do I know it is truly organic and meets USDA Organic standards? 

Store: We stock as much organic produce as possible, and almost everything is grown in the Unites States. Occasionally, we have items grown in other countries, but we put up signs to identify their origin. But we do meticulous research to make sure these things are coming from reputable sources.

NFM: What about in other stores? The supermarket down the street has a pretty big organic produce selection, and I know not everything is U.S. grown.

Store: It really depends on which country the fruit or vegetable comes from. The United States has agreements with a few countries such as Canada to make sure the organic standards are uniform. But as for food from Mexico or South American countries, it really depends. Their organic standards could be just fine. It’s really up to that store’s produce buyer to do his research.


How did this retailer do?

Our expert educator: Gwendolyn Wyard, regulatory director of organic standards and food safety at the Organic Trade Association

The retailer got off to a decent start, but he could’ve explained further. Rather than pointing to a reputable source and/or the kind of research”that’s needed, he could’ve referenced the law and regulations and explained the well-established third-party certification system that applies to any product making an organic claim.

All food labeled organic sold in the U.S., regardless of country of origin, must be certified to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic standards. It’s the law. The USDA National Organic Program accredits all certifiers—domestic and foreign—to the same requirements to uphold the organic label’s integrity. Certified-organic farmers must follow strict rules regardless of where they are located. And certifiers, whose work is audited by NOP, use residue testing as a means of deterring fraud and contamination on organic farms. USDA has revoked the accreditations of foreign certifiers who’ve failed to demonstrate competency, and it quickly announces the discovery of fraudulent certificates.

USDA’s high organic standards have also encouraged the harmonization of organic standards across major markets. As the retailer mentioned, the U.S. has organic equivalency agreements with Canada, the European Union and Japan. Such agreements promote strong organic programs, protect standards and facilitate trade of organic products. Despite the rare and isolated occurrences of fraud, the organic label remains the only regulated claim with federal oversight and enforcement.

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