- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho State Department of Agriculture is defending its organic program in the wake of a high-profile federal fraud case involving a farmer who passed off conventional seed as organic.

Bliss Seeds LLC owner Bernard Saul, of Bliss, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to wire fraud for intentionally misrepresenting alfalfa seed as organic to several Midwestern buyers, The Capital Press reported (https://bit.ly/1RXlj37). His wife pleaded guilty to delivery of a misbranded food product.

As part of a plea agreement, Saul will have to pay more than $1.9 million in restitution and to forfeit over $1 million in real property.

According to investigators, Saul bought alfalfa seed that was treated with fungicides and pesticides, upped the price by about $1.25 more per pound than the average nonorganic seed, and resold it as organic.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Patricco said the farm was capable of growing 35,000 pounds to 50,000 pounds of organic seed each year, but sold a total of 7 million pounds between 2010 and the fall of 2015.

ISDA officials say such abuses of the system are rare and that there are rigorous safeguards in place to prevent such fraud.

“I’m confident consumers are getting what they’re paying for,” said Johanna Phillips, organic program manager at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

Phillips declined to comment on specifics of the Saul case, but said organic certifiers such as the ISDA must meet standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. She said her agency certifies 236 of about 300 organic operations in the state.

Patricco said in his five years in his position, the state hasn’t prosecuted any other cases involving misrepresentation of products as organic. Saul’s case was brought to his office’s attention by an ISDA inspector.

“There are ways around even the best inspectors and best regulations,” Patricco said.

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Information from: The Capital Press (Ore.), https://www.capitalpress.com/washington


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