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In order to make sure that farmers are not using banned pesticides or genetically-modified organisms, organic food will be forced to undergo periodic residue testing starting in 2013, USDA officials have announced.
The agency first implemented regulations governing organic food production 10 years ago, and since then, only a select few private and accredited firms have been responsible for testing the farms that grow such produce, according to Bill Tomson of the Wall Street Journal.
The reason, he says, is that current USDA regulations offer “little guidance” regarding testing procedures — specifically, the reasons behind such examinations and the scheduling of them.
All organic food processors must undergo an initial inspection in order to become certified as organic food producers, Tomson explains, but there are regulations on the books requiring farms to be re-evaluated on a regular basis.
“The USDA said it is mandating that agents test annually a minimum of 5% of the farms or production facilities they are contracted to monitor,” the Wall Street Journal reporter wrote. “That is enough testing, the USDA said, to discourage use of prohibited substances without raising costs to the organic industry that has to pay for the testing.”
Currently, there are less than 100 accredited agents allowed to complete residue tests on the approximately 30,000 organic food producers across the globe that currently market their ware in the US, Tomson said.
The USDA will reportedly allow those agents to determine the 5% of the farms that will be tested each year, as mandating which facilities are tested would increase costs.
“The USDA said the new testing requirements will protect the integrity of the organic food industry. Periodic residue testing, it said, will discourage the mislabeling of organic food that consumers buy in supermarkets,” he wrote on Friday.
Tomson added that it was “an audit performed by the USDA’s inspector general that the USDA said prompted its decision to mandate periodic testing. Auditors interviewed four of the agents that monitor organic food producers in the U.S. and found that none of the agents were conducting periodic testing.”