By Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini. An article published in several websites (nerdwallet.com, Nasdaq.com, qcostarica.com), authored by Mr. Richard Read, contains a number of statements that are not true, and states others that are out of the proper context that does not reflect the true situation. This is a typical case of so-called post-truth. As Ralph Keyes states, “In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction” (https://ralphkeyes.com/book/the-post-truth-era/). In order to clarify the content of the article, I will analyze some of these statements and explain the true situation.
Let us start with the title of a Richard Reed article: $6 Million in Bogus Organic Fruit Sold to U.S., Costa Rican Report Finds. This title refers to a Congressional Committee report that does not state what the title says: that the fruit sold to the U.S. is “bogus organic”. This was a claim by a company (Frutera La Paz) that exports organic pineapple, against another company (Valle Verde) that is in the same business. The Congressional Committee is not conclusive and states that the facts “could constitute an apparent fraud to the organic regulations”, and calls for further investigation.
This case was investigated by the National Phytosanitary Service (SFE, the Spanish acronym), an organization attached to the Ministry of Agriculture but with a degree of administrative independence that allows them to rule on technical matters designated to them by law, including the regulation of organic certification. The outcome of a formal investigation by SFE only can be challenged by a court, not by the Minister of Agriculture. It may sound strange, but it is the law. This legal clarification is necessary to explain my role as Minister of Agriculture at the time.
In this case, the formal investigation by SFE did not confirm the claims of Frutera La Paz and did not cancel the organic certification of Valle Verde. The legal path that La Paz is following is to contest the SFE ruling in court. Not happy with that, La Paz also decided to take this case to Congress, turning a legal issue into a political one, before a court decision was determined. The Congress Committee that investigated this matter failed to prove that the organic certificate of Valle Verde was not adequate. This also needs some further clarification. In an arbitrary ruling by former SFE director, the Costa Rican Organic Certificate of Valle Verde was temporarily suspended as a preventive measure while the SFE investigation took place, but the US Organic certificate was still valid and it complies with all the requirements. The soundness of this certification was confirmed in an independent study by the U.S. National Organic Program. In order to be sold in the U.S. as organic, a product has to comply with the U.S. Organic standard, and this was the case with Valle Verde. The legal issue regards the Costa Rican certification and whether or not Valle Verde should have exported during the short time in which the local certification was temporarily suspended, even if the U.S. certificate was sound. This has to be resolved in court, not in the Minister’s office. Also, this does not pose any hazard to U.S. consumers because U.S. standards are met.
Another aspect that needs clarification is my role as Minister of Agriculture and what Congress decided. First, contrary to what the Richard Reed article states, I did not “step down” as a Minister, as the expression implies a resignation to the position. I was appointed by President Luis Guillermo Solís (2014-2018) for the length of his four-year constitutional term, and I remained in the position until the end of his term. There was no resignation or abdication. In the post-truth era, ambiguous use of words can be misleading.
Second, I had no legal authorization to interfere with an SFE investigation regarding matters assigned to them by law, and this was explained to the Congress committee. I could not take sides, neither with La Paz or Valle Verde. In this case, all the due process was done by SFE with their own legal team, and they came to a conclusion that, if one of the parties was not pleased, the finding could be contested in court. This is the legal route and any participation of the Minister would have been outside of the legal procedures. Even with that explanation, the Committee, in a 4-3 vote, approved a specific recommendation in the report that called for an investigation to determine whether or not I failed in my responsibilities. This recommendation was submitted to the Congress plenary for approval or rejection, and it has not been voted yet. So the article’s statement that “Lawmakers forwarded their findings to Costa Rican prosecutors for possible criminal action against a representative of the certification companies and against the country’s former agriculture minister”, is not true. Again, it is easy to get things confused in the post-truth era.
The Committee’s investigation was to determine if there had been a fraud with organic pineapple exports, not to determine the minister’s responsibilities. Because of that, I did not present the legal allegations and other relevant documents that would have proven that I did what the law allowed me to do. I trust that when the Congress plenary receives the right information, they will make the right decision.
Article was submitted by Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, Ph.D., Former Costa Rican Minister of Agriculture (Ex Ministro de Agricultura y Ganadería de Costa Rica)