CORNUCOPIA, Wisc., Jan. 17 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — When staff at The Cornucopia Institute surveyed Wal-Mart stores around the country last September, analyzing the giant retailer’s decision to sell a wider variety of organic food, they discovered widespread problems with signage misrepresenting nonorganic food as “organic.”
More than four months after informing the company of the problems, which could be interpreted as consumer fraud, and two months after filing a formal legal complaint with the USDA, the federal organic regulator, many of Wal- Mart’s deceptive signs remain in place.
“Rather than correct these problems, Wal-Mart instead attacked us in the media trying to discredit our organization,” said Mark Kastel, codirector of the Wisconsin-based organic watchdog. “They could instead have simply sent out an e-mail to store managers and corrected the problem.”
New store inspections throughout Wisconsin have found that Wal-Mart stores are still selling nonorganic yogurt and sugar identified as organic, and designated organic produce sections continue displaying many nonorganic items, among other abuses. Cornucopia contacted the USDA again but could not confirm that any enforcement action was imminent. Fines of up to $10,000 per violation for proven incidents of organic food misrepresentation are provided for in federal regulations.
Seeking corrective action, Cornucopia has now filed a consumer fraud complaint with the state of Wisconsin. “Within hours they contacted us to confirm some of the information we submitted,” stated Will Fantle, Cornucopia’s research director.
The USDA’s organic program has been widely criticized for not addressing possible improprieties in a timely manner. In one case, a Florida orange grower who could not document that oranges and orange juice he was selling were produced organically still was selling his products more than two years later, pending USDA action.
“The vast majority of all organic farmers and food marketers operate with a high degree of organic integrity. These abuses, and the lack of responsible enforcement by the USDA, endangers the credibility of the organic label for all of us, said Tom Willey of T & D Willey Farms of Madera, California, an organic fresh market vegetable producer.
“If unchecked, Wal-Mart’s alleged misrepresentation of organic food could endanger the livelihoods of farmers and family business owners who have labored to build organics into a lucrative $16 billion / year industry,” Kastel lamented.
The full news release, Wal-Mart complaint and photo gallery of mislabeled products can be viewed at http://www.cornucopia.org/.