After substantial investments in an attempt to coin a new brand for goldenberries (physalis/cape gooseberries) and allegations of non-payment from Colombian suppliers, Phoenix-based importer Pichuberry is now in hot water with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In a list published today, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the company had used a fraudulent organic document for selling the fruit, and falsely included another goldenberry importer Andes Export Company in the certification.
“At the time of posting, Andes Export Company is certified by CERES and is an operation in good standing. Andes Export is not responsible for the alteration of this certificate,” the AMS’ National Organic Program (NOP) affirmed in the listing.
Fresh Fruit Portal published concerns about the issue from certifier CERES and Andes Export Company in March, and Pichuberry CEO Michael Popescu claimed the incorrect documentation was an issue of confused paperwork.
“It appears the wrong certificate was sent over to our customer. This is in process of being corrected. It does appear that there was confusion on the supplier,” Popescu said at the time.
We have reached out to Popescu for further comment on the USDA determination but are still awaiting a response.
Another fresh produce company included in today’s announcement was Jalisco, Mexico-based Campo Agricola Agua Azul, a blueberry supplier that surrendered its organic certification effective December, 2016.
The other fresh produce group included in today’s list of 11 companies overall was Mersin, Turkey-based Gulda Agro Group Sanayi Ticaret for fraudulently claiming it was selling 100% organic agricultural products including corn, onions, apples and ginger.
The USDA did not specify the fines any of these companies would be expected to pay, but on its site states that to “market, label, or sell non-organic agricultural products as organic is punishable by fines of up to $11,000 for each violation”.
“Falsely representing products as certified USDA organic violates the law and federal organic regulations,” the USDA says on the Fraudulent Organic Certificates webpage.
“Certifying agents and organic operations should continue to guard against these practices and practice caution when purchasing products from suppliers.
“Anyone suspecting a violation of the regulations can report a complaint to the NOP Compliance and Enforcement Division.”
The announcement comes just after the Organic Trade Association (OTA) started up an anti-fraud task force to bolster the system to protect the integrity of the organic industry.