Are You Buying Phony Organics?

Given how ridiculously lucrative the organics industry has become, it's no surprise that plenty of people might take advantage of consumers' desire to eat pesticide-free foods. But while greenwashing is now as predictable as red quinoa in the bulk section, a USDA email alert last week about the rampant nature of fraudulent organic labeling came as an unwelcome shock.

According to the alert, the USDA's National Organic Program recently took "enforcement action" against two uncertified companies that were producing false certificates. The companies are based in China and Turkey; the former certified various goji berry products, while the latter slapped its shady "organic" label on seafood, eggs, and poultry. China, the same country that brought melamine to your dog food and fake honey to your toast, is home to four of the ten other fraudulent outfits listed on the USDA's website, but the locations of similar companies in places as diverse as Russia, Malaysia, South Africa, and Kuwait illustrate the breadth of the problem.

False certification carries a fine of up to $11,000 for each violation, but given that the organics industry was valued at $28.6 billion in 2010, attempts to take advantage of the bounty don't seem likely to disappear in the face of $11,000 fines. Meaning that if organic hibiscus extract powder from China seems a little too good to be true, it probably is.

Image source: USDA

Rebecca Flint Marx eats and writes in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.