Big Bills and Big Chills for Honest Organic Inspector

Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm. One of two Demeter-certified Biodynamic farms in Nebraska, Common Good produces for their CSA and for the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Lunquist is an organic farmer and inspector, but he acted as a citizen in this case. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

Evrett Lunquist and wife Ruth Chantry, parents of five children, own and operate Common Good Farm in Nebraska. They produce for a CSA and the market: herbs, vegetables, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and pork. Photo courtesy of Open Harvest Coop Grocery.

 

On December 7, 2011 the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) inadvertently violated its own policies and released the name of a Nebraska man who had accurately reported a farmer who was flouting the legally binding organic rules.

In so doing, the NOP unleashed upon Evrett Lunquist a multi-year plague of legal pleadings, and a barnload of  legal expenses to defend himself.

After his name was released in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the man who correctly reported the violations, Biodynamic farmer and part time inspector Evrett Lunquist, was sued for $7.6 million in a Nebraska Court by Paul A. Rosberg, the vengeful farmer who had violated organic rules. Later in the proceedings, International Certification Services was added as a defendant.

After more than 18 months of tedious hearings and a numbing cascade of motions filed by the plaintiff, Lancaster County Judge Paul D. Merritt finally in August 2013 issued a summary judgment dismissing the case.

not-organic-After the expensive ordeal of defending himself against the allegations unleashed by the NOP’s procedural error, Lunquist, who followed the letter of the law acting as a private citizen when he initially reported the violations, had racked up more than $43,000 in legal expenses. While he received no support or acknowledgement of responsibility from the NOP, he and his family did find generous support from their church and their community. I have previously reported on this case both here and here.

logoThis convoluted case calls into question the ability of the USDA and its National Organic Program (NOP) to stand behind citizens and inspectors who report violations of organic standards. Consequently, the case has sent a palpable chill through America’s network of organic inspectors, and may thereby compromise consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA’s “Certified Organic” label. Meanwhile, another kind of food certification — Certified Naturally Grown — is emerging….

The rest of this story is on my blog for The Call of the Land. – Steven M.