Ooops. According to this fine investigative piece in the Sacramento Bee, a company called California Liquid Fertilizer (a subsidiary of a company called United Organic Products, which is now owned by a company called Converted Organics) has been adding ammonium sulfate to its liquid fertilizer and passing it off as approved for organic use. Any number of certified organic farms used the fertilizer, which means that their produce was not actually organic–although the farms won’t be penalized since they couldn’t have known.
What a mess. According to the article, California Food & Ag officials were notified by a whistleblower in 2004 that a non-organic chemical was being added to the fertilizer, but they didn’t act for three years and have not taken the strongest actions against the company that they could have.
This points out several problems: First, every state has different standards for how garden products like fertilizers, pest controls, and bagged soils must be labeled and analyzed. While the USDA has a standard, nationwide definition for the term "organic" as it applies to the crops, how that term may be used on bottles and boxes of fertilizers differs from state to state.
Second, any number of third-party agencies (like OMRI or Washington State, to name only two of many) can certify that a product contains only ingredients that are approved for use on organic farms. But inspections are spotty, and–third– as the Sac Bee article points out, laboratory analysis can’t always tell the difference between, for instance, organic and non-organic nitrogen sources.
And finally–the article suggests that the CA Dept. of Food and Ag has been slow to act in part out of a desire to keep bad news about California agriculture out of the news following the E. coli spinach debacle. However, they did have time to issue press releases waiving health requirements for Santa’s reindeer and encouraging the purchase of California’s award-winning cheeses for the holidays.
So what’s the solution? One uniform, nationwide standard for ingredients, labeling, and so on. It’ll keep fertilizer companies from having to go through fifty different agencies to sell their products nationwide, and free up more resources that can be used for better inspections and analysis.
Hmph. Anybody using these Converted Organics products in the garden?