A bill meant to deter fraud in California’s nation-leading organic farming industry is headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, the Sacramento Bee reports.
Assembly Bill 856, authored by Assemblywoman Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), targets problems in the organic fertilizer sector.
The bill increases penalties for violations of organic fertilizer standards, expands state regulators’ inspection authority and raises as much as $416,000 annually for enforcement through new fees on fertilizer makers.
An investigation by the Bee revealed that state Department of Food and Agriculture regulators had caught a Salinas-area manufacturer spiking its allegedly organic fertilizer with synthetic nitrogen, which is banned from organic farms. The company, California Liquid Fertilizer, sold its product to packaged-salad giant Earthbound Farm and strawberry powerhouse Driscoll’s, among other organic farming leaders.
While California Liquid Fertilizer was ordered to pull its product from the market, it remained in business and was not otherwise penalized.
The organic fertilizer sector’s troubles worsened this year, drawing Washington’s attention.
In January, federal agents raided Bakersfield-based fertilizer maker Port Organic Products, by several accounts the leader in the California organic market. Kern County inspection records show the company had stocked thousands of gallons of aqua ammonia, a common source of synthetic nitrogen.
In February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced new verification standards for organic fertilizers. In July, the agency announced violations at a third fertilizer maker.
The state Department of Food and Agriculture sponsored AB 856. The bill was also supported by organic farming and certification groups as well as the fertilizer industry.
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