John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers Agency for Relationship Marketing, talks about organic fraud at the recent NOFA-NY Organic Dairy and Field Crop Conference.

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. — Organic fraud cost U.S. farmers $400 million in 2015, according to John Bobbe, executive director of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing.

Bobbe presented “Defending Organic Integrity in the Face of Fraud” at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York’s Organic Dairy and Field Crop Conference.

In recent years, organic fraud has become rampant among those exporting grain to the U.S. Seventy percent of organic soybeans and 40 percent of organic corn are imported. Much of those crops come from India, Ukraine, Argentina and Turkey.

Bobbe said that fraudulent inspections, faked shipping paperwork and lax U.S. inspections have led to a massive influx of nonorganic grain that’s labeled organic but is actually a mix of organic and nonorganic materials.

Bobbe said the Ecological Farming Controlling Organization, or ETKO, an organic certifier, has been de-certified by the European Union and other countries, but not by the U.S. He believes the USDA “agreed to a draw, though ETKO was decertified by the rest of the world.”

Bobbe expressed disappointment that the USDA would continue to accept ETKO as a legitimate organic certifier.

He cited Ukraine’s organic soybean market, where ETKO does organic certification, as an example.

“Eighty percent of Ukraine’s organic soybeans were grown illegally from genetically modified seeds,” he said.

Bobbe said a $220 million case in Malta involved producers topping a load of organic grain with nonorganic grain.

He said that Ukraine lacks a sufficient number of organic producers to supply true organic grain.

“So what is it? Not organic!” he said.

Bobbe said that Turkey doesn’t grow any organic grain for export, yet shipments from the country bearing “organic grain” continue to come in.

“Why are they a big organic grain exporter?” he asked.

Bobbe said he believes international organized crime syndicates control these exports and make money off it, comparable to the illicit drug trade.

Trade sanctions against Russia prevent that country from selling organic grain, yet they continue to export grain labeled organic, he said.

Bobbe said that inspecting shipments shouldn’t be that difficult. As of March 4, only 14 ships bearing imported organic grain were tracked on near U.S. ports.

India, a top exporter to the U.S., continues to export what Bobbe said is contaminated grain because of a trade agreement tucked into a 2008 nuclear treaty.

“We have to accept what they send us as organic,” he said, even though the grain was contaminated by birds and animals.

Bobbe said he would like to see a verified audit trail for imports so that inspectors here can accurately assess the source of grain. His organization has filed complaints with the USDA’s National Organic Program, but said the NOP “hides behind equivalency agreements or is simply taking their word for it.”

He said the U.S. needs 200,000 additional acres of organic corn and 400,000 acres of additional acres of organic soybeans to replace these imports.

“Start asking where grain is coming from,” he said. “Ask for verification. This problem is not going away soon.”

He encouraged farmers to speak up if they suspect fraud as he feels the NOP has not been proactive to fraud complaints.

OFARM, an organic grain and livestock marketing cooperative, represents producer members in 19 states. Bobbe also authored “Marketing Organic Grain: A Farmer’s Guide.”

Deborah Jeanne Sergeant is a freelance writer in central New York.