Jul 27, 2021
Organic Trade Association pushes Congress for ‘advancement’ of U.S. program
The U.S. organic sector is on a tear; demand for organic food and products has never been greater, and more consumers have access to organic than ever before. Fifty members of the Organic Trade Association representing the entire organic supply chain recently met virtually with some 30 lawmakers to make sure that the organic sector’s remarkable advancement continues.
Reflecting gaining momentum for the bipartisan Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (CIAO) introduced in the House earlier this year, the diverse group of organic farmers, businesses and associations from throughout the country visited with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle last Tuesday on the critical need to support the legislation that safeguards and advances organic.
“The federal regulatory apparatus has fallen behind the evolving organic sector, and has slowed innovation and improvement within the industry. This legislation corrects the course forward,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association. “Our fly-in drove home to lawmakers the fact that the unique private-public partnership of organic and the federal government has made our organic system the gold standard for food and agricultural systems, and that we need to get that partnership back on track.”
The CIAO bill has been endorsed by more than 55 organic farmers, businesses, consumers and environmental organizations, with a co-sponsor list that’s grown to 16 since its introduction. The National Organic Standards Board has also expressed unanimous support for the bill, saying the legislation respects the work of NOSB in clarifying and updating national organic standards. More than 50 current and former NOSB members have endorsed the bill.
The legislation directly addresses the challenges of organic over the past two decades and provides a clear way to ensure the federal government keeps up with the organic market. It lays out a road forward for organic through three areas: it requires USDA to clear the backlog of stalled organic standards put forth by the industry and recommended by the National Organic Standards Board; it establishes a new framework for advancing future organic standards; and it ensures consistent application of new standards from organic certifiers.
Participants in last week’s virtual fly-in came from all points of the organic supply chain and mirrored the diversity of organic–organic grain farmers and dairy and poultry producers, organic processors and consumer brands, organic flavor makers and fertilizer producers, organic certifiers and organic fiber stakeholders.
“Danone North America is excited to work with our trade association colleagues, Congress and USDA so that organic standards continue to advance and create positive societal outcomes around the environment and public health,” said Chris Adamo, Vice President, Government Relations, Policy & Partnerships for Danone. “This bill will ensure that one of the premier public-private partnerships in the federal government continues to meet consumer expectations. We are highly encouraged by the positive reception from many congressional offices on this common-sense rational for updating the program.”
The organic stakeholders stressed to lawmakers how organic is a voluntary regulatory program that farmers and businesses choose; they shared real-life examples of how organic provides a profitable and sustainable option for farmers and an economic boost to rural communities; and they detailed how in the past 10 years, the organic industry has advanced 20 recommendations for improvements to organic standards, yet USDA has not completed rulemaking on a single one.
“More than three decades ago, farmers, food manufacturers and consumers looked to the federal government as partners in creating a National Organic Program. The partnership has been successful, but the backlog of regulatory action threatens consumer confidence and hampers businesses and farms in making operational decisions and investments. Continuous improvement is the foundation for ongoing trust and value in this public private partnership. This bill provides a path forward and can serve the needs and concerns of all stakeholders,” said Matthew Dillion, Vice President, Government Affairs & Social Impact at Clif Bar & Company.
“Our grocery customers are expecting USDA to close the gap between consumer expectations of organic and the implementation of the National Organic Program. This bill goes a long way to accomplish that,” said Mark Squire, President, Good Earth Natural Foods organic grocer in California. The CIAO bill is the result of a broad coalition of farmers, industry, consumers and environmental organizations working together with Congress, and reflects more than a year of work by the Organic Trade Association and its members.
The bill was introduced in April by Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Rodney Davis (R-IL), Ron Kind (D-WI), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).
As part of continued advocacy for the CIAO bill, the Organic Trade Association and the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University will be launching a series of virtual workshops this fall and winter that will bring together a diverse coalition of stakeholders to look at the changing needs of organic, explore ways to improve organic, and discuss how to build upon organic’s successes.
Sponsors for the trade association’s work on continuous improvement are National Co+op Grocers, General Mills, Danone, Organic Valley, Naturepedic and True Organic Products.