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Not All Ethical Certifiers Are Equal

Not All Ethical Certifiers Are Equal

"Organic is an alternative method of agriculture. It isn't a food-safety claim and it is not a free-from-pesticides claim."
- Joe Smillie, founder of QAI, an industry-backed organic certifier.

November 13, 2007 —

There has been some friction of late between ethical certifiers over differing standards for "fair trade" and "organic." With industry-backed labels like Utz and QAI joining the ranks of Transfair or NOP, questions are being raised about the effect that the entry of large corporations into the ethical products markets will have on the integrity of these products. Are we close to a day when we'll have to carry a wallet-sized chart of all the various ethical labels just to know which ones walk the walk?

Hopefully not. But a recent scandal involving one the second largest American organic milk brand has many looking more closely at the steps organic certifiers take to ensure that a farm or company is delivering on its promises. Wal-Mart's leading organic milk supplier, Aurora Organic, has been placed on probation by the USDA after several "willful" violations of NOP rules were discovered. The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy watchdog group, brought the complaint that forced the USDA to act, but Cornucopia is also alleging that the USDA is going easy on "big organic." While its doubtful these kinds of abuses will seriously threaten the organic foods boom, it may be time to demand higher standards and improved monitering from some the ethical certifiers.

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