Almost everyone has heard of the supposed benefits of organic foods. However, recent problems surfacing in the organic food industry suggest that consumers may not always be getting what they pay for.
A recent article in the Lexington Herald-Leader explained that in the past year, several fertilizer makers, some of which are leaders in the California organic market, have come under fire for using substances in their fertilizers that are banned from organic farms. Jim Downing, California moves to curb organic fraud, LEXINGTON HERALD LEADER, available at http://www.kentucky.com/greenspot/story/939041.html (last visited Sept. 22, 2009). In January, Port Organic Products was raided by federal agents who found a stock of aqua ammonia. Jim Downing, Organic crop fraud targeted, THE SACRAMENTO BEE, available at http://www.sacbee.com/business/story/2188480.html (last visited Sept. 22, 2009). Aqua ammonia is a common source of synthetic nitrogen. Additionally, an investigation by The Sacramento Bee discovered that the Department of Food and Agriculture discovered the company California Liquid Fertilizer adding synthetic nitrogen to its fertilizer. Id. This particular company sold its produce to organic food leaders Earthbound Farm and Driscoll's, as well as other organic farming leaders. Id.
While synthetic fertilizers do not necessarily present health risks to consumers, they are disfavored by organic farmers because of the negative environmental impacts they can cause. Id. These fertilizers utilize increased energy in production, lower the natural fertility of soil and increase water pollution. Id. Furthermore, consumers of organic produce are willing to pay a higher price for the goods because of the promise that they were grown without these types of chemicals. Id.
Despite the controversy caused by these dishonest business practices, the only penalty handed down to California Liquid Fertilizer was to stop selling the product on the market. Id. Reacting to this situation, the state of California, which leads the nation in the organic farming, also plans to be the leader in combating fraud in the industry. Id. Assembly Bill 856, which was authored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, addresses these problems in the area of organic fertilizer. Id. A copy of the bill in its current state can be found on Cabballero's website: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a28/Legislation/default.aspx. The bill, which should arrive on the desk of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger soon, increases penalties for violations of organic fertilizer standards. Id. In addition, it increases the authority that state regulators have over inspections and raises approximately $416,000 per year for enforcement due to new fees imposed on fertilizer makers. Id.