Natural Foods Merchandiser

French Execs Jailed In Organics Fraud

Swindling, deceit and forgery—just a few of the crimes a French trader is accused of for selling conventionally grown cereal as organic, WorldOrganics News noted recently in a piece titled "French Organic Sector Rocked by Cheats." And the trader wasn't the only crook in France. A managing director of the company Eurograin received six months in jail, a hefty fine and a five-year banishment from the industry for trafficking in fraudulent organic cereal. Meanwhile, an executive from the Central Soya company got eight months in jail for complicity.

As the London-based WO News said, "Demand for organic produce is increasing rapidly in France, and prices for organic cereal are roughly double those for conventionally grown produce, leading some more unscrupulous characters to take part in illicit profit-making activity."

A companion article said most fraud was likely to originate with traders or shippers, rather than producers. "If organic wheat, for example, did not come up to the required quality for a buyer, nonorganic wheat might be substituted in order to meet quality requirements," it said. It went on to note how difficult it sometimes was to establish that organic standards have been met 100 percent, citing the case of a Dutch organic certifier "caught" on television (but later vindicated) for approving Ethiopian sesame seeds and Slovakian sugar beets.

Some of this became the grist for a United Kingdom television broadcast that claimed that the organics sector was "failing to live up to its high ideals" and "this could undermine the whole basis of integrity in the sector," WO News reported. The broadcast alleged that British shoppers were being duped into buying substandard organic produce from abroad, and that conditions on some organic farms were inhumane. "The main point made was that the public had a right to better information, for instance, on labeling, as to the origins of produce and conditions under which it was produced. It was further argued that a symbol from a certifying body might provide insufficient information for most shoppers as to provenance and quality," the publication wrote.

Some observers in the United States worry that scandals—real or otherwise—could harm the organics industry here. (See "Can Organics Avoid Supplements' Slip?")

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 9/p. 11

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