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Keeping the Organic in Organic

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With a 2007 growth rate of more than 20% and sales of roughly $4 billion, the organic category runs the constant risk of attracting scammers. Luckily there's Craig's List to keep them occupied — for now. Each participant in the food industry needs to take some responsibility for helping to ensure that the food, beverages and other products labeled "organic" are authentic. Fraud can occur at any stage of distribution.

Several initiatives currently underway are worth keeping an eye on. On the retail end, the National Cooperative Grocers Association has been testing a retailer-based organic fraud detection and prevention program launched last October. The aim is to figure out what methods and best practices food retailers can adopt to limit the incidence of fraudulently traded organic products and to increase the chances of early detection when it takes place within the retail supply chain. NCGA is hoping to be able to offer some sort of program by the middle of this year.

k9974-1i1.jpgMeanwhile, back at the farm, researchers are attempting to develop protocols capable of detecting the presence of synthetic fertilizers in crops labeled organic. A new report published in the Journal of Environmental Quality described successful trials of a process called nitrogen isotopic discrimination to see if fertilizers not approved by the National Organic Program were used on a sweet pepper plant.

While these trials are being conducted, it might be a good time to think about ways your company is protecting organic integrity. Getting in-store departments and entire stores certified, or contracting with third-party certifiers is all good. These actions demonstrate good intentions.

But it may not be enough. Organics continues to attract more consumers, and generate millions more dollars in revenue. Those interested in taking ill-gotten profits are captivated as well.

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