In the last weeks of 1992 I visited a farm near Senda in Portugal. In Senda were a group of organic farmers that sold their products to northern Europe through an exporter called Senda. When I arrived at one of the farms, unannounced I saw the owner Maria Amelia stirring in a large water-tub. Besides the tub I saw full and emptied bottles of agri-chemicals. She just went on what she was doing: she threw the bottles in the water, stirred, and then filled water-can. These water-spraying cans were emptied on the field of young onions. This was done by a number of old women dressed in black.
Back home I made a report. I don’t have this report anymore, but I did find a number of faxes which I received as a result of my report.You can see the original fax if you click on the red links below.
From these faxes we can learn the following things:
1. The fraudulent organisation was expelled by their certifiers, but then started their own certying organisation. In this they were supported/helped by government people, I heard. Also customers/bussinesspartners were still interested in their products.
2. As a defense on my report they use the usual arguments:
— A part of the farm is non-organic, and that is where these facts must have occured. (A peculiar way of applying chemicals for a conventional farmer !)
— Senda writes: “The lab says that the onions are free of chemicals”. (But the lab writes that the samples of onions were sent up to them, so we do not know if these clean onions came from the organic farm or from someone’s garden.The inspector who took the sample was probably an APPA employee, their own man.)
3. More than one year after Agrobio decided to expell Senda, the Belgian certifiers decided to ban Senda. This is how long it takes. Did other countries do the same? Did Senda finally stop ? Did the people behind Senda leave the organic scene ? Lets hope so.
4. Agrobio asked for help and information from IFOAM. (fax of 16 -2- 1993) third attachment
From this letter we read the following: –For more than 6 months Senda refused to give information to their controllers ( like the adresses of producing farms etc.) — Irregulatrities were detected in farms which produced for Senda. —- Then in july 1992 Agrobio banned the Senda organisation. —- But Senda kept exporting , and using the Agrobio guarantee label, illegally. —- Senda created its own certification organisation called APPA, with the help of some government people I heard recently. —- Senda refused to have APPA evaluated by Ecocert ( !) . —- Then APPA was evaluated by UNITRAB, an organisation formed by French traders (!). — The evaluation was not too nice, but economic pressure was so big that Senda kepton exporting.
5 There is a fax from Agrobio to me, asking for my report. — Agrobio has asked it to IFOAM’s mr. Bernward Geier ( who has worked for IFOAM from its beginning until last year) to sent up my report, but mr. Geier did not send it. Very nice, because now I did receive this ‘confidential’ letter dated 16-2-1993. In this confidential letter we read about a dubious player that is still around: mr. Carl Haest from Belgium. This mr. Carl Haest we find in the IFOAM guidebook of 2004 as board member of the IFOAM Trade Forum. In this same IFOAM Trade Forum side by side with mr. Haest we find mr. Robert Duxbury , now head of Certification of the big Brittish certifier Soil Association. The man whom I had I had tried to contact for a week about our Thai Competitor. When finally I had him on the line and asked how many minutes he had, he said: one minute! One minute ! In this one minute it became clear to me that he was not at all interested in finding fraud. He was interested in finding out what exactly I had found. Certification is in good hands at S.A.!
This sheds a light on IFOAM and the people that play a role in it: many of these people are around for 20 years, and almost all of them have a commercial past, or a commercial present.
Here are the faxes again with a short description:
1. From the first attachment you can see that Ecocert did spread it to an EU member of parliament, to Germany and France.
2. From the second attachment you can see that it was received by the government in Portugal and by a french newspaper.
3. From the third attachment you can see that the Agrobio control-association was unable to stop Senda as an exporter. This letter you should read as a whole.
4. The fourth attachment is a letter to me.
5. The fifth letter is from an official Portugese government lab, who say this:
“We like to inform you that the two samples of onions ( treated and non treated) which were sent to our Institute…..”
…are indeed resp.1. free of chemicals and 2. not free of chemicals…..
NOTE: These lab people did not see the fields. The samples were sent there.(‘Enviadas’ in Portugese))
6. In the sixth attachment you can read the defense of Senda’s own private controllers ( Appa) :
They say that the dutch farmers identity was not known and that his visit was unannounced,that the farmer had not taken any matter to be analysed ( True: I was scared, of course. Had to play mr. Stupid. ) , that the report did mention onions, not ‘very small onions’.
Nevertheless they (APPA) have decided to controle their own bosses and the result was:
1. There was an organic field and a non organic field.
2. The non organic field was free of chemicals.
They say that the Inspector has taken samples…. but the samples were sent to the Institute. With Inspector they mean probably the APPA employee.
7. In the seventh attachment which is in Dutch language one can read that : “Appa is no longer recognised by Biogarantie”
“… because of regularly and repeatedly having found chemical residues of non allowed pesticides in several products that were certified by APPA. We have informed APPA about this, and asked them to give us all the information that could show that they can contain this problem, and solve it. As long as we do not havethis information, Appa will be banned.