On the heels of a previous report highlighting lack of enforcement and oversight in our food system, the U.S. Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) new report on whether milk marketed as organic actually meets the National Organic Program’s standards is a real wake-up call to the organic community. And so it should be. Consumers pay a significant premium for organic products and rightly expect transparency and oversight. However, the OIG's new report, "Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program - Organic Milk," exposes major failings of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) certification and auditing systems. At a time when consumers are turning their backs on industrialized farming systems – and genetically modified (GM) farming in particular – the new report raises real questions about exactly what people are paying for when they buy organic milk.
Yet another article highlights the importance of consumer engagement in food labeling. According to LancasterOnline.com's Mary Beth Schweigert, lack of oversight in National Organic Program has created a "chasm between consumer expectations and actual industry practices." Ms. Schwigert notes the challenges that the NOP, now in its twelfth year, faces in terms of its dual mission to protect agriculture while simultaneously protecting the consumer. The NOP has drawn significant criticism on its lax pasture requirements - 80,000 public comments to be exact. However, even adequate standards are only as good as the enforcement behind them. Schwigert reports a startlingly low number of citations in the first seven years of the program - only $20,000 for three fraudulent operators in a $23 billion U.S. organic food industry. National Organic Coalition (an industry watchdog group) policy coordinator Liana Hoodes responded to this issue, explaining that strong national organic regulations are worthless without consistent oversight and enforcement. She added, "It will either clean up its act or get surpassed by many other labels."