Thursday, August 22, 2019

In the largest prosecution of organic fraud in U.S. history, Iowa grain seller sentenced to 10 years in prison

UPDATE 8/21/2019, 7:46 a.m. The Associated Press is reporting that Randy Constant was found dead, apparently by suicide. He was found by police in a vehicle in his garage in Chillicothe, Missouri, according to the AP. The coroner in Livingston County said that he had died of carbon monoxide poisoning, which was confirmed by a post-mortem exam at the University of Missouri Medical Center. The New Food Economy will work to confirm these details.
Shade-grown coffee. Pastured chicken. Organic milk. What do these foodstuffs share in common? Each one comes with an elevated origin story, helping to fetch a higher price at the grocery store. Perhaps more importantly, these items require a degree of consumer confidence that their backstories are legitimate. As such, they are susceptible to fraud.
“Any time there’s a claim of a certain pedigree, an origin that the consumer is not equipped to verify independently, the market is ripe for fraud,” says Doug Moyer, PhD, a professor of public health at Michigan State University, and a researcher at MSU’s Food Fraud Institute.

The only assurance the public has that a product is actually organic is a USDA certification label.
Case in point: Last Friday, as part of an ongoing federal investigation, the perpetrator of the largest case of organic fraud in United States history was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Between 2010 and 2017, court documents show that farmer Randy Constant ran a massive Iowa grain brokerage, selling more than $142 million in supposedly “organic” animal feed to livestock farmers throughout the Midwest. In turn, the products those farmers sold to the public under the USDA-certified organic label—meat, dairy, and eggs—were virtually indistinguishable from their conventionally produced counterparts.
“Thousands upon thousands of consumers paid for products they did not get and paid for products they did not want,” U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said at Friday’s sentencing, according to court documents. “This has caused incalculable damage to the confidence the American public has in organic products.”
In 2018, U.S. organic food sales topped $47.9 billion, up almost $3 billion from the previous year, and following a steady annual increase since at least 2009. At retail, the price markup for organic over conventional products can run as little as 5 or 6 percent for produce items, to well over 100 percent for beef and other meats.
There is a range of factors for the price differential, but put simply, growing organic food requires additional costs on the part of the farmer. This is due to both more labor-intensive operational costs and the inability to apply the easy-touch pesticides and insecticides often required in conventional farming (a limited number of chemicals are approved for use by organic growers.)
The only assurance the public has that a product is actually organic is a USDA certification label. This indicates that the food producer in question successfully went through a lengthy application process, and is subject to at least one inspection per year. 
One of the strictest requirements for organic-certified meat, dairy, and eggs is that grain-based animal feed must have been grown without synthetic pesticides, the same as crops grown for human consumption. With the USDA’s animal welfare standards for organic producers eroding, this feed requirement is arguably the most important distinguisher between conventional and organic meat products.

Prosecutions of organic fraud are fairly uncommon, especially at this scale.
Court documents show that Constant purchased his grain through a brokerage he owned called Jericho Solutions, then sold it to livestock farmers. Three grain farmers were given lesser sentences alongside Constant, all of whom were found guilty of knowingly growing fraudulent corn and soy for the grain brokerage (the DOJ predicts more arrests to come). DOJ claims that Constant’s products accounted for 8 percent of all organic soybeans grown in the U.S. in 2016, and 7 percent of comparable organic corn.
Constant exploited the organic/conventional price differential by selling faux-organic feed at prices that couldn’t be matched by competitors. In fact, other, presumably honest organic feed producers allegedly reported Constant to federal investigators, claiming his prices were simply too low for the crops to have been produced organically. Other grain farmers couldn’t compete. 
“The only reason this investigation ever happened was that others in the industry reported [Constant],” says Mark Kastel, founder of the organic watchdog organization Cornucopia Institute, which has been assisting the Department of Justice (DOJ) in its investigation. 
Indeed, prosecutions of organic fraud are fairly uncommon, especially at this scale. Factors include dwindling resources at USDA’s National Organic Program, paired with an inspection system rife with loopholes. For instance, organic certifiers are often hired by farmers themselves. Inspections are usually made with days or weeks of advance notice. And pesticide testing on the grains themselves is rarely done. Additionally, monitoring imported organic grains, which have been in the spotlight recently for repeated cases of fraud, has been a drain on federal resources.
Moyer suspects there’s less of an appetite to prosecute organic fraudsters, especially when it comes to animal feed, as there is little risk to human health. He points out instances of food adulteration like antifreeze in wine and melamine in baby formula that had serious public health consequences. “It may be that [organic fraud] seems like more of a victimless crime,” says Moyer. “Unless of course, you’re the consumer who’s been paying extra for fake products.”
This sentiment is echoed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), the organic industry’s biggest lobbying group. “Trust in the organic seal is critical, and the Organic Trade Association supports actions by the USDA to uphold the integrity of organic,” said OTA’s executive director, Laura Batcha, in a statement to The New Food Economy.  “The vast majority of organic producers and stakeholders work hard every day to abide by the standards, but for the ones who don’t, there are consequences. We hope this ruling serves as a deterrent for future attempts at fraud. Enforcement of the organic standards is critical for the continued success of organic.”
Constant’s particular scam involved a process Moyer refers to as “salting,” wherein a small proportion of legitimate product—in this case, organic grain—is mixed with fraudulent product, a simple means of throwing inspectors off the scent. Another form of salting comes in the reverse—for instance, a small amount of a cheaper item is mixed in with the legitimate product, producing large savings in the aggregate. This type of fraud is prevalent with spices like oregano and olive oil, and can have dire public health consequences as in the 2014 case of cumin salted with peanut shells.
Despite the lack of precedent for cases like Constant’s, Moyers hopes this is a watershed moment for organic authenticity. “This has been devastating for an industry that is largely built on consumer confidence,” he says. “I’m thrilled this conviction happened, though. This is how you rebuild trust.”
We reached out to USDA for comment, and will update if and when they respond.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Footrot Webinar Set for June 4

The next in a series of educational webinars sponsored by the American Sheep Industry Association's Let's Grow Program will discuss the causes, treatment and prevention of footrot in sheep. 

The cause of this condition in sheep and goats is the same so treatments should be effective in both species.

Purdue University Extension Small Ruminant Specialist Mike Neary, Ph.D., will lead the webinar, which will be hosted by Jay Parsons, Ph.D., from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Predators and footrot have probably caused more sheep producers to leave the business through the years than any other causes. Footrot is costly to deal with in terms of labor costs, health product costs and reduced performance by animals in the flock. It can also be a humane and animal welfare issue in flocks with a high prevalence of footrot.

Footrot is highly contagious and can be difficult to eradicate, yet is entirely preventable. Footrot is caused by the synergistic action of two anaerobic bacteria: Fusobacterium necrophorum and Bacteroides nodosus. The condition is aggravated when environmental conditions such as mud, moisture and warmth are present. This discussion will include how sheep acquire footrot, how to prevent it, and how to control and eradicate it.

Click Here to register for the webinar. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Mississippi's Alcorn State plans buck test

Alcorn State University in Lorman, MS will be hosting a field day on Small Ruminate Production on June 1, 2019. Speakers will include Dr Maria Leite-Browning DVM (Alcorn State University), Dr Richard Browning Jr Ph.D. (Tennessee State University), and several other great speakers! This will be a great opportunity for anyone wanting to learn about the ever growing meat goat industry. 

In addition to all of the great info, Dr Maria Leite- Browning will be announcing the long awaited Alcorn State University Buck Test tenatively scheduled to begin in 2020. There will be an opportunity to tour the facilities and review the test protocol. I encourage all regional producers, who can make it, to attend. 

This would be a great opportunity to show the university that there is strong regional support for the Alcorn State University Buck Test. Joseph Knetter of Wistlin Dixie Kikos and Phillip Wilborn of Just Kiddin Caprines have been working with Dr. Maria for nearly 2 years to establish the groundwork for this very important test to be conducted in the parasite-harsh Southeastern United States.

Tuskegee plans artificial insemination workshop

Tuskegee University will hold an Artificial Insemination (AI) Workshop in Goats on May 21-23, 2019 from 9 am-3 pm daily.This workshop is sponsored by USDA/NIFA and the Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program. 
This hands-on workshop is limited to 20 participants and will take place at the Tuskegee University Caprine Research and Education Unit. 
Registration is $35 and includes lunch and all training materials. This interactive training program will allow agriculture producers to receive instruction on the reproduction of goats, including anatomy, physiology and reproductive management of does and bucks as well as the advantages and limitations of using AI. 
The workshop will also provide hands on training in estrus synchronization and AI techniques. 
For more information, contact Atiya Shahid at ashahid9106@tuskegee.eduor 334-727-8403. Please visit registration, materials and additional information. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Tuskegee University Annual Goat Day April 27

The Tuskegee (Alabama) University Annual Goat Day will be held on Saturday, April 27, 8:30am - 4:00 pm. The theme of this year’s Goat Day is “The Use of Drones for Grazing Management and Forage Growth.”
The featured speakers include Ronald Smith from Tuskegee University, Andres Cibils from New Mexico State University, Jerry Dan Swafford from Virginia Cooperative Extension Service-Virginia Tech and Bill Blackwelder from the Delta Southern UAS from Clarksdale, Miss. 
The speakers will highlight the benefits of using drones/unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)/unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in modern day animal agriculture, with an emphasis on their use to benefit small and limited resource producers. 
These speakers have many years of working with drones and UAV/UAS subjects and will share their expertise with the TU Goat Day participants. Further, Dr. Nar Gurung, Director of the TU Caprine Research and Education Unit, will provide an update on the status of goat research and extension/outreach activities at the unit. 
Brady Ragland, director of the Alabama Meat Goat & Sheep Producers (the Meat Goat & Sheep Division of Alabama Farmers Federation), will moderate the roundtable discussion that will feature sustainable goat production practices, challenges and opportunities in meat goat production. 
The afternoon will be filled with numerous field day activities, providing attendees with hands-on experience related to topics discussed in the morning sessions as well as exposure to a plethora of products unique to the goat industry. 
Registration materials may be obtained at For more information contact Dr. Nar Gurung at 334-727-8457 or 334-421-8620 or e-mail at Exhibitors/Vendors please contact Nikisha Ryan at 205-212-8463 or

Monday, April 15, 2019

USDA Assists Iowa Farmers, Ranchers, Communities Affected by Flooding

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2019 - To help residents, farmers, and ranchers affected by the devastation caused by recent flooding, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to aid Iowans in their recovery efforts. USDA staff in the regional, state, and county offices are providing a variety of program flexibilities and other assistance to residents, agricultural producers, and impacted communities at large.
“USDA is committed to helping Iowa farmers, ranchers and communities impacted by the devastating flooding to successfully recover following this disaster,” Perdue said. “Our staff in your local USDA Service Center is eager to help connect you with the vital services we offer, and where possible, putting people before paperwork.”
Helping Operations Recover After Disasters
Beginning today, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in the Iowa counties of Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona, Pottawattamie and Woodbury are accepting applications for the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) to address damages from spring flooding. ECP enrollment deadlines may vary by county, as such, producers need to contact their local FSA office for more information. Additional flexibilities have been provided to help reduce and streamline the burdensome environmental assessments typically required by ECP.
Last week, FSA also announced that emergency grazing use of Conservation Reserve Program acres is approved in Iowa through May 14, 2019. Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines damaged by natural disasters.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources.
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has information about protecting livestock on its Protecting Livestock During a Disaster page. Additionally, the agency is helping to meet the emergency needs of pets and their owners, as inspectors are coordinating closely with zoos, breeders, and other licensed facilities in the region to ensure the safety of animals in their care.
Farm Production and Conservation Agencies Helping Producers Weather Financial Impacts
When major disasters strike, USDA has an emergency loan program that provides eligible farmers low-interest loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers weather the financial impacts of major disasters and rebuild their operations.
Livestock owners and contract growers who experience above normal livestock deaths due to specific weather events, as well as to disease or animal attacks, may qualify for assistance under USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program. Producers who suffer losses to or are prevented from planting agricultural commodities not covered by federal crop insurance may be eligible for assistance under USDA's Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program if the losses were due to natural disasters.
USDA’s Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program provides payments to these producers to help compensate for losses due to disease (including cattle tick fever), and adverse weather or other conditions, such as blizzards and wildfires, that are not covered by certain other disaster programs.
Helping Iowans Access Food Post-Storm
Following the flooding in Iowa, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approved Iowa’s request to operate the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) in the Iowa counties of Fremont, Harrison, Mills, Monona and Woodbury. Households that may not normally be eligible under regular SNAP rules may qualify for D-SNAP if they meet the disaster income limits and have qualifying disaster-related expenses.
FNS also is providing extended time for current SNAP recipients in these Iowa counties to seek replacement of food lost due to the disaster. SNAP regulations normally require households to report lost food within 10 days of purchase. However, USDA approved the Iowa Department of Human Services’ request to extend this time period, so SNAP households have until April 30, 2019, to request replacement benefits.
USDA Helping Residents Protect the Safety of their Food
As residents make it back into their homes, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is helping ensure they are taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Food safety tips after a power outage and flooding are available on the FSIS website.
USDA encourages those whose homes flooded during the storm to take steps to protect the safety of their food.
Tips to protect food safety after flooding occurs:
  • Drink only bottled water that has not come in contact with flood water. Discard any bottled water that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Discard any food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance it may have come in contact with flood water. Food containers that are not waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap lids, pull tops, and crimped caps.
  • Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples, and pacifiers that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Thoroughly wash with hot soapy water all metal pans, ceramic dishes, and utensils that came in contact with flood water. Sanitize by boiling them in clean water or by immersing them for 15 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of drinking water.
  • Undamaged, commercially prepared foods in all-metal cans and retort pouches (for example, flexible, shelf-stable juice or seafood pouches) can be saved. Follow the “Steps to Salvage All-Metal Cans and Retort Pouches” in the publication Keeping Food Safe During an Emergency at:
USDA Helping Impacted Communities Recover
During declared natural disasters that lead to imminent threats to life and property, NRCS can assist local government sponsors with the cost of implementing recovery efforts such as debris removal and streambank stabilization to address natural resource concerns and hazards through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
USDA Rural Development (RD) offers technical assistance, loans, grants, and loan guarantees to rural communities and individuals to assist with the construction or rehabilitation of utility infrastructure including water and wastewater systems, community infrastructure, and housing.
Housing Programs
Homeowners who have an RD home loan and were impacted by the flood should call the Customer Service Center at 800-414-1226 to discuss payment assistance options. Homeowners with an RD guaranteed home loan should immediately contact their lender and file an insurance claim.
Community Programs
Rural communities of 10,000 or fewer residents who have suffered a significant decline in the quantity or quality of their water may be eligible for Emergency Community Water Assistance Grants to establish new water sources or repair water transmission lines. Communities also may be eligible for Special Evaluation Assistance for Rural Communities and Households grants to begin developing feasibility studies for new water and waste disposal projects. Please contact USDA Rural Development staff in the Atlantic office at712-243-2107, Ext. 4, or visit for more information.
Business Programs
RD also partners with the U.S. Small Business Administration to assist rural businesses impacted by natural disasters. Please call 515-284-4663 or visit for more information.
Long-Term Recovery and Rehabilitation
RD offers more than 40 direct loan, guaranteed loan, grant and technical assistance programs to help communities impacted by natural disasters with their long-term recovery and rehabilitation efforts. The programs assist rural communities and individuals with the construction or rehabilitation of utility infrastructure including water, wastewater, electric and telecommunications systems. They also help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas, expand housing opportunities, and enhance community services such as public safety, education and health care.
Visit USDA’s disaster resources website to learn more about USDA disaster preparedness and response. For more information on USDA disaster assistance programs, please contact your local USDA Service Center. To find your local USDA Service Center go to

Friday, March 29, 2019

Nebraska Extension Offers Resources to Flood Victims

As Nebraskans begin returning to their homes in the aftermath of widespread historic flooding, Nebraska Extension has mobilized a number of resources to aid in the road to recovery.
Those affected by the flood are likely unsure of where to begin. Extension encourages individuals returning to homes and properties to first take steps to ensure their safety. When a home or building is flooded, there is likely damage to the structure. Buildings need to be thoroughly dried and it is critical to test domestic wells for bacteria. Also, be cautious when working in and around contaminated floodwater.
Extension has compiled a list of the state’s certified public health environmental laboratories where homeowners can obtain a water test kit.  
To read the article about flood resources, visit the KTIC radio website.
NIFA supports the Nebraska Extension Service.