Voluntary organic check-off steps forward | Michigan Farm News

Voluntary organic check-off steps forward

Category: Politics

by Maggie McNeil, Organic Trade Association

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“Everyone in our organic industry has a stake in eliminating consumer confusion, growing the market, and building the organic brand, so we’ll work collectively to ensure the future of organic.”

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) on Sept. 6 announced an engaged and bold plan to move forward with a voluntary industry-invested organic research, promotion and education check-off program that will be collaboratively designed and implemented by organic stakeholders across the diverse organic supply chain.

“The Organic Trade Association recognizes great demand for coordinated organic research and promotion, and the organic sector is ready to work together on innovative solutions that will have key benefits for organic,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director for the OTA.

“In today’s political environment, organic companies and stakeholders are increasingly seeking private sector solutions, and the trade association is taking the lead in supporting these efforts,” said Batcha. “There is a critical need to educate consumers about organic, for more technical assistance to help more farmers transition to organic, and to loudly promote the organic brand.

“Responding to that need, we are launching a two-track effort to develop a voluntary governance approach and to also advance initiatives that will deliver immediate big wins for the organic sector.”

The trade association has formed a steering committee to coordinate and lead the efforts. The committee is charged with addressing the governance questions around a voluntary program to maximize good participation and decision making, and also to bring together right now multi-pronged private efforts to foster coordinated organic research and promotion.

Helping organic GRO

“These big ideas all live under the banner of GRO— shorthand for Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic,” said Batcha. “Everyone in our organic industry has a stake in eliminating consumer confusion, growing the market, and building the organic brand, so we’ll work collectively to ensure the future of organic.”

The steering committee established two subcommittees to guide the process -- a governance subcommittee and an immediate programming subcommittee.

To gain the best thinking from stakeholders about some of the critical questions that need to be addressed regarding how to maximize participation in a voluntary program and how to make the best decisions on investments, the governance subcommittee will open a comment period for interested parties to provide detailed comments in writing to address these key questions. Interested stakeholders should look for the comment period to open in the fall of 2018.

Members of the Governance subcommittee are Laura Batcha (Organic Trade Association), Kim Dietz (Senior Manager for Environmental, Natural and Organic Policy, The J.M. Smucker Company), Marty Mesh (organic produce grower and Executive Director, Florida Organic Growers), Perry Clutts (organic dairy farmer and owner, Pleasant View organic dairy farm in Ohio), Melissa Hughes (Chief Mission Officer and General Counsel, Organic Valley), Gary Hirshberg (CoFounder and Chief Organic Optimist, Stonyfield Organic), Melody Meyer (President, Source Organic), and Grant Lundberg (CEO, Lundberg Family Farms).

The immediate programming subcommittee will identify programs to advance organic and coordinate and fund those programs immediately. These prototype programs will invest in critical needs and serve as proven projects for investment when a formal voluntary program rolls out.

Already collaborative programs are being developed and funded. The OTA is joining forces with Organic Voices and the group’s “It’s Not Complicated” campaign to fund a nationwide message drive to reduce the confusion about organic. The goal for the campaign is to raise a minimum of $1 million for each of the next two years.

Other projects getting underway will:

  • Conduct in-depth consumer research on the most effective ways to reinforce the organic brand;
  • Advance a portfolio of research to fill in gaps for organic farmers and show the beneficial impacts of organic on environmental and human health;
  • Provide the necessary funding for more organic Extension agents across the country.

The Organic Trade Association submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in May 2015 to consider implementing an organic check-off program.

USDA in January 2017 officially proposed a nationwide organic check-off program, opening the process for public comments. Last May, USDA abruptly terminated the rulemaking process despite comments in support of the program from more than 12,000 individuals and businesses, including thousands of organic farmers, ranchers and business stakeholders.

“The organic community is committed to enabling a sound, resilient and sustainable future, and we look forward to everyone’s participation and influence,” said Batcha. “We want to make sure – through our collective efforts -- that organic flourishes and grows for many years to come.”

For more information and details about opportunities to get involved, contact the Organic Trade Association.