ORGANIC FOOD SAFETY IN THE US
Sales of organic foods have risen nearly 25 percent in the last three years, but viewers started asking KVUE earlier this year why they were seeing a series of organic foods being recalled.
The Defenders sorted through five years of FDA and USDA recalls and found organic food recalls have gone up slightly nearly every year but still only account for about 6.4 percent of all food recalls.
More and more organic food is being imported, now a $1.4 billion industry that includes 100 different countries.
“Why would organic food be recalled?” asked Carey.
The Defenders found the majority of organic food recalls were due to salmonella or listeria contamination.
“It does not mean your food is safe from micro organisms just because it’s organic,” said University of Texas professor Dr. Tom McGarity, who teaches food safety law. “Any bird flying over can cause salmonella to be on your crop.”
Most organic farms also use compost or manure instead of synthetic fertilizers which can lead to E. coli, listeria and salmonella; and the summer months are the biggest concern.
“Those are the bad bugs that do well in a barn where you wash produce,” said Brenton Johnson, who started farming organically in his backyard in 2004. He now runsJohnson's Backyard Garden, a 200-acre organic farm, the largest in Texas.
Johnson's farm only uses compost because they plant crops year-round and he invites customers out to his farm six days a week because he believes people deserve to see how their food is grown.
“Everyone that’s a farmer wants to provide healthy and safe food for their customers. I think a big part of it is education,” said Johnson.
Organic farmers have strict rules to follow. So who’s checking?
Third-party certifiers come inspect the farms to make sure they’re following the rules and they look at everything even things you wouldn’t expect.
“There’s a lot more that goes into it than you think at farms, there are even a required number of bathrooms per worker and having those close by,” said Johnson.
It is why Garity said people should pay attention to where their food originates.
“We’re putting a lot of faith in the certifiers over in China, for example, and other countries,” said McGarity.
Last year the USDA discovered 13 fraudulent organic certificates, most overseas in places like China. It also fined businesses $1,872,875 dollars for violating organic rules.
“There’ve been some scandals. Farms that were producing organic foods less than three years after pesticides have been used,” said McGarity.
There are the 81 agencies that certify foods as ‘organic’. The USDA reviewed 37 of those and found 23 were non-compliant, but points out that the average checklist score for those agencies was 96.7 percent.
There is no magic trick that can ensure everything you eat is completely safe, but knowing where your food originates, washing your produce and cooking it when you can helps.