Trust: Head of America’s largest organic food fraud scheme sentenced to 10 years

For years I’ve told my five daughters the same thing: when someone says “trust me” walk – no run – away. Trust is earned.

And there’s far too much faith-based food safety.

A judge on Friday sentenced the mastermind of the largest known organic food fraud scheme in U.S. history to 10 years in prison, saying he cheated thousands of customers into buying products they didn’t want.

Ryan Foley of Global News cited U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams as saying Randy Constant orchestrated a massive fraud that did “extreme and incalculable damage” to consumers and shook public confidence in the nation’s organic food industry.

Williams said that, between 2010 and 2017, consumers nationwide were fooled into paying extra to buy products ranging from eggs to steak that they believed were better for the environment and their own health. Instead, they unwittingly purchased food that relied on farming practices, including the use of chemical pesticides to grow crops, that they opposed.

“Thousands upon thousands of consumers paid for products they did not get and paid for products they did not want,” Williams said. “This has caused incalculable damage to the confidence the American public has in organic products.”

Williams said the scam harmed other organic farmers who were playing by the rules but could not compete with the low prices offered by Constant’s Iowa-based grain brokerage, and middlemen who unknowingly purchased and marketed tainted organic grain.

Williams ordered Constant, a 60-year-old farmer and former school board president from Chillicothe, Missouri, to serve 122 months in federal prison, as his wife and other relatives sobbed.

Earlier in the day, Williams gave shorter prison terms to three Overton, Nebraska, farmers whom Constant recruited to join the scheme. Williams described the three as largely law-abiding citizens, including one “legitimate war hero,” who succumbed to greed when Constant gave them the opportunity.

Michael Potter, 41, was ordered to serve 24 months behind bars; James Brennan, 41, was sentenced to 20 months; and his father, 71-year-old Tom Brennan, was given a three-month sentence. Williams said the shorter sentence for the elder Brennan reflected his heroism as a decorated platoon leader in the Vietnam War.

All four farmers sentenced Friday had pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and co-operated with a two-year investigation that isn’t over. A fifth farmer has also pleaded guilty in the case and is awaiting sentencing.

The farmers grew traditional corn and soybeans, mixed them with a small amount of certified organic grains, and falsely marketed them all as certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the grains were sold as animal feed to companies that marketed organic meat and meat products.

The farmers reaped more than $120 million in proceeds from sales of the tainted grain. The scheme may have involved up to 7 per cent of organic corn grown in the U.S. in 2016 and 8 per cent of the organic soybeans, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Schunk said that under the scheme, consumers paid at least $250 million for fraudulent organic products _ and perhaps $1 billion or more. He said that Constant for years exploited an organic certification system that relies on the honesty of farmers and private certifiers.

“He saw the weakness in the system and he exploited it over and over again,” Schunk said.

Constant said that he took full responsibility for his crime and he apologized to his family and the grain merchants, farmers, ranchers and consumers whom he ripped off.

“The organic industry in this country is built in trust and I violated that trust,” he said.

Food safety should not be faith-based (but often is)

As hundreds pray for the revival of Blue Bell ice cream in Texas, Cross Pointe, Ohio, Free Will Baptist Church Pastor Bill Pitts spoke of the mundane moments in life during his April 19 sermon.

prayer-image3Little did he know that life would soon become anything but mundane as a botulism outbreak was set to strike and kill one church member and sicken others after a potluck lunch.

“There’s always one defining moment in our lifetime,” Pitts said. “And that defining moment will determine the rest of our future and how we handle the rest of our future, if we’re going to trust God or we don’t during that time. So it seems like it was almost a preparation for what was going to happen 15 minutes later.”

The Ohio Department of Health said Monday that home-canned potatoes in a potato salad are the likely cause of the botulism outbreak that led to Kennetha “Kim” Shaw’s death. There are 20 other confirmed cases and 10 suspected cases.

Pitts said there are still church members who are in critical but stable condition, while others are improving and going home.

Pitts said he never imagined something like botulism breaking out in Lancaster or the church, and he said it was unprecedented.

 “We have to understand that, since things have happened, I personally believe, according to Scripture, that death came because of sin. So instead of me really questioning God, getting mad at God, I need to get mad at the sin that’s in the world and make the world better, rather than what sin has done to it.”

Death and illness came because of botulism, because someone didn’t know what they were doing, and had nothing to do with sin.

Believe fairytales if you like.

See me smell me taste me; faith-based food safety in Malaysia

In the wake of four Salmonella deaths and multiple illnesses at a wedding, 36 sick kids at one school from canteen food and 25 at another, a prominent physician told Malaysia’s New Straits Times consumers could protect themselves against food poisoning by sight, smell and taste.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association (PPPKAM) vice-president Dr Othman Warijo said the three steps were part of a imagescampaign by the Health Ministry and were crucial to avoid food poisoning.

“Despite appearing simple, the steps are worth doing to avoid food poisoning, which can result in death,” he said on Friday.

He said victims of food poisoning often blamed food handlers when they themselves ignored safety procedures before eating.

“Look at the physical appearance of the food to find out if the gravy has become sticky. Sniff the food to determine if it is rotten. Taste the food. If one is confident that the food is edible, then one can proceed. Otherwise, leave it.”

He added food handlers must ensure adequate storage and cooking facilities to ensure that raw materials were not contaminated and have basic knowledge in food preparation, be properly attired with their head and mouth covered, use aprons and gloves, and undergo compulsory typhoid injections.

In the Salmonella deaths, Kedah Health Department director Dr Ismail Abu Taat confirmed that the chicken used for the ‘ayam masak merah’ dish was delivered to the host in Kampung Huma a day before the wedding reception was held. “The chicken stock was sent to the house on Friday evening but the meat was only cooked at 4pm the next day, which allowed to bacteria to breed,” he said.

Know thy supplier: horse, pig meat found in Irish beef burgers

My mother informed those gathered last month that, as a child, I would barf in the car going to get groceries.

mr-edIt’s true, I can’t tolerate the motion.

We went out on a boat in Florida, and I yakked.

So does Chapman.

But I did manage to drive about half of the 48 hour trek from Kansas to Florida and back and would sometimes stop at a burger joint. Then that craving goes away, for longer and longer periods of time.

So what’s a little horse mixed in?

It has to do with faith-based food safety, reputation, and that purveyors say one thing but may be doing another.

And that makes lots of people want to barf.

The Independent reported last week the horsemeat-in-beef-burgers scandal is now a fully fledged economic crisis for Ireland’s multi-billion agribusiness – a beacon of light during the recession – and the country’s reputation as an international food producer may be damaged beyond repair.

It is now a runaway train that could yet derail the lucrative export market for Irish processed meat products and cost the economy millions of euro. The damage included immense reputational harm to not just Irish meat processors found to have produced burgers with horse.meat.09equine DNA but the overall food industry here. In all, 27 beef burger products were analyzed, with 10 of the 27 products (37 per cent) testing positive for horse DNA and 23 (85 per cent) testing positive for pig DNA.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had last week revealed that up to 29 per cent of the meat content of some beefburgers was in fact horse, while they also found pig DNA.

In addition, 31 beef meal products – shopping-trolley staples such as cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne – were also analysed. Of these other beef products, 21 were positive for pig DNA but all were negative for horse DNA.

All 19 salami products analysed tested negative for horse DNA.

But traces of horse DNA were detected also in batches of raw ingredients, including some imported from the Netherlands and Spain which are used in the production of burgers.

Reputational damage to major international companies will also cost Ireland dear in lost business – even though it now appears likely that the source of the contamination was a bought-in additive from either the Netherlands or Spain, though the Spanish have denied involvement.

Tesco – where one of its Irish produced “Value Range” burgers had 29 per cent horsemeat – lost €300m of its market value in one day. Burger King was revealed as using one of the Irish suppliers at the centre of the storm. It has now ditched all Silvercrest beef products in Britain and Ireland.

Cooking tools, pans, sinks and dishcloths used in kitchens where the meat was handled must also be sanitised or disposed of.

According to a January 20 memo, employees at restaurants in the UK were told to continue serving the suspected meat until they received replacement product from a different supplier – and make no mention of the withdrawal to customers.

“If our guests inquire regarding our beef products, the team member should immediately inform the restaurant manager,” wrote Tracy Gehlan, the vice president of brand standards and excellence for stores in northwestern Europe, wrote in the memo.

“The manager should inform the guest that Burger King ‘has taken all necessary precautions to ensure that our guests are receiving the quality products that Burger King is known for’.”


The frozen burgers were on sale in high-street supermarket chains chapman.vomitTesco and Iceland in both Britain and Ireland, and in Irish branches of Lidl, Aldi and Dunnes Stores. Tesco is Britain’s biggest retailer.

In related horse meat news, FSA has admitted five horses which tested positive for a drug harmful to humans were exported to France for food.


Earlier, shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said “several” UK-slaughtered horses with phenylbutazone, or bute, may have been sold for food.

The FSA said it identified eight cases of bute-positive horsemeat in 2012, none of which was for the UK market.

The drug is banned from being consumed by humans within the EU.

9 sick in Missouri, 2 kids in hospital, but raw milk faithful rally to the cause

Food to many is an evangelical calling.

Some find faith in monotheism, some in nature, some in the sports shrine (I prefer ice hockey, especially now that the playoffs have started and the cathedral once known as Maple-Leaf-Gardens-whatever-the-corporate-home-of-Toronto’s-disgrace-is-now is out of the theological debate), and some in the kitchen.

For some faiths, like creationism, biology don’t matter much.

So the headline in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, harking to centuries of food hucksterism, is not surprising: “Illnesses don’t dissuade raw milk fans.”

“Raw milk enthusiasts say an E. coli outbreak in Missouri won’t change their preference for unpasteurized dairy products.

“At least nine people in five counties in central and western Missouri have been sickened by E. coli since late March. Health officials have pointed to raw milk as a possible cause in at least four of the cases, including a 2-year-old from Columbia who remains hospitalized with severe complications.

“MooGrass Farms near Collinsville sells about 200 gallons of raw cow, goat and sheep milk each week, mostly to families from the St. Louis area, said the farm’s manager, Kevin Kosiek.

“His customers appreciate the taste of whole raw milk as well as the lack of heat processing that kills some of the nutrients.

"This is not a fad," Kosiek said. "People are going back to where people used to get their food, and that’s farmers doing natural, organic things."

“Kosiek and several other raw milk distributors said they doubt the E. coli outbreak will be ultimately linked to unpasteurized dairy products.”

Faith and biology don’t have to conflict. Facts are important, but never enough. It’s a religious thing.

A table of raw milk related outbreaks is available at:

Evidence-based eating

I don’t care what adults choose to eat, smoke, drink or derive pleasure from; I do care when it affects kids, and that’s why many such activities are regulated based on age. For public health, it’s about reducing societal risk. For individuals, it’s balancing risk with choice.

But choice should be based on credible evidence.

Medium-rare hamburger is not the same as a medium-rare steak.

Robert Belcham arm-chair risk modeler and owner of ReFuel Restaurant in Vancouver, one of the few Canadian establishments to offer burgers to order, told the National Post the risk of his medium-rare hamburgers containing personally sourced meat, dried and ground fresh daily, is no greater than a medium-rare steak.

Show me the data. The difference is that meat, no matter how lovingly it is cared for and slaughtered, is prone to poop, somewhere, and when grinding steaks or other cuts, the outside becomes the inside.

Meat is just one offshoot of the Church of Raw, which sees nature as benign and good. I see nature as awesome and a great teacher, but also as an entity that is too busy to worry solely about the welfare of humans. Me say, fire is good.

The term pink burger is used throughout the article to denote a medium-rare burger, yet it has been known for almost 20 years that the color of meat has little to do with its actual temperature (and bacteria-wasting capabilities). Hamburger can appear brown but be woefully undercooked.

Hamburgers, more so than most illness-prone foods, remain subject to an odd double standard. Raw sushi remains largely unregulated. Any Ethiopian restaurant worth its salt offers gored gored (raw beef) and this month, Toronto’s prestigious Royal York Hotel is hosting the Great Toronto Tartare-Off, a showcase of raw minced steak mixed with raw egg. “Somehow, somewhere along the way we’ve been conditioned to think that if you see pink in a burger it means someone’s trying to kill you,” said Donald Kennedy, manager of the Victoria, B.C.-based Victoria Burger Blog.

That’s because people – especially kids – routinely get sick from undercooked hamburger and raw milk. Some die. An Iowa public health type wrote recently that “feeding unpasteurized milk to infants constitutes child endangerment.” Hardly the perfect food.

The line offered by one restaurateur, “I’ve served probably 100,000 burgers and nothing’s happened,” is commonly heard by food safety types from farm-to-fork, and underlies the why people and institutions underestimate risk. Those operating the BP Gulf oil well, the space shuttle Challenger, and Maple Foods meat slicing operations all saw warning signs, but were comforted by the quaint notion that, we did things this way before and nothing happened, so probably something won’t happen today. Food is part of the biological world and is constantly changing.

I’m not here to preach; lots of people do risky things, especially me. What individuals do with their raw meat in the privacy of their own homes is their own business: until it involves children. Or fairytales.

Faith-based food safety still dominates. But, as Lyle Lovett sang 15 years ago, “If a preacher preaches long enough, even he’ll get hungry too.”

Praise the Lord and pass the guacamole

WFAA-TV reports that La Calle Doce, a restaurant in Dallas, don’t need no stinking FDA advisory.

“Despite the FDA advisory, the restaurant has not stopped serving tomatoes.
Jesus Sanchez, the restaurant’s owner, said, "We’re making sure that everything we serve is thoroughly washed.” …

Anita Bivens, another diner at the restaurant, said,

"As a Christian, you just pray over your food and you just trust that God is going to provide and take care of you.”

Individuals should be free to believe and do what they want – with caveats about harming others.

But not a restaurant.

Faith-based farming

The N.Y. Times carried a feature this morning about the role of religion in food production, including a quote from Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture:

"The religious movement is a huge force. Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher, and institutional buying.

“Religious leaders have been giving dietary advice for decades and centuries, telling us to eat fish on Friday or to keep kosher in your home. What we are seeing now are contemporary concerns like the fair treatment of farm workers, humane treatment of animals and respect for the environment being integrated into the dietary advice given by the churches.”

The Times story also quoted Joel Salatin, who is considered a guru of organic agriculture, as saying he has seen a change in the people who visit his Polyface farm in Virginia:

"Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers. And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”