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Suspicious organic grain shipment intercepted at U.S. port

Staff Writer |
Twenty-five thousand metric tons of purportedly organic corn grown in Russia, Moldova, and Kazakhstan currently sits on the M/V Mountpark, a United Kingdom-flagged vessel lingering off the coast of California.

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U.S. Customs officials have blocked the shipment for offloading on the basis that it violates federal law.

Sunrise, a Canadian-based importer, is now suing the USDA and U.S. Customs for rejecting the shipment, which Sunrise attests is worth millions of dollars.

Farmer-owned cooperatives in the United States contend that American grain producers have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in recent years, facing competition from fraudulent grain imported and fed to certified organic livestock in the U.S.

Records released as part of the lawsuit confirm that U.S. farmers are competing with a sophisticated international supply chain and illegal shipments of organic corn originating from former Soviet Bloc countries.

Court documents reveal that Sunrise and/or its trading partners provided U.S. Customs with shipping documents that inaccurately identified Turkey as the country of origin, when organic transaction records indicate this to be false.

Imports of raw corn seed from Turkey are allowed through a permit process, but imports from certain countries, like Russia, are not because of concerns that contamination by pests and pathogens could place domestic producers at risk.

"If these companies are willing to apparently cheat in order to circumvent import prohibitions designed to protect U.S. farmers from noxious pest infestations, why would we assume that they would hesitate to cash-in from misrepresenting conventional corn as organic?" asked Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute.

An organic industry watchdog, Cornucopia has been pressuring the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) for over a decade to pay attention to import fraud. Last year, the NOP was rocked by allegations of massive import fraud reported in an investigation by The Washington Post.

John Bobbe, executive director of Organic Farmers' Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM), an umbrella organization representing organic grain marketing cooperatives in 19 states, said, "Considering our domestic organic grain farmers have lost over $400 million from 2015 to 2017 to fraudulent organic imports, it's about time we get some relief through regulatory enforcement and judicial redress. We'll be watching these proceedings closely."

Sunrise contends it is incurring costs of $23,500 a day while its shipment is denied entry.

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