SAN DIEGO - Organic produce is supposed to be free from synthetic chemicals and governed with strict guidelines.
But Team 10 found no established testing procedures are in place.
“USDA Certified” is the label to look for when spending extra money on organic produce. And that price tag can be 20 percent to 30 percent higher than conventionally grown produce.
Consequently, organics have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Organic Foods Production Act of 1990
Organics are overseen by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
It required the United States Department of Agriculture to set up an organics program to oversee processing, distribution and certification. It’s called the National Organic Program.
The program in turn, oversees third party certifiers around the world who give products the USDA Certified stamp of approval. According to the USDA, there are 85 certifying agents who handle about 30,000 operating farms.
The law also requires a strict examination of "residue testing" for pesticides.
But now, 22 years after the law was enacted, those tests are not happening.
Miles McEvoy heads the organics program for the USDA.
The Office of the Inspector General did an audit of the program in 2010. The report states that the organics program did not establish testing procedures and the certifying agents were not preforming periodic residue testing as required by law.
“Congress indicated that certifiers should be doing periodic residue testing and that had never been established,” said McEvoy.
Team 10 joined with 10 of our sister stations across the country and went to various stores to purchase imported organic produce.
We bought a wide variety with each station buying different products.
Each of the samples from across the country was shipped overnight to the same certified lab in California.
Wil Sumner headed the testing project. He has been a chemist for more than 35 years. Today, he runs his own company.
“By definition, organic does not mean chemical-free. It just means it is grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers,” said Sumner. “It doesn't mean that they are not toxic.”