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Organic Trade Association Update: Organic Standards Survey, Equity Survey, Federal Legislative Update

by Noah Lakritz |

CCOF partner, the Organic Trade Association (OTA), is requesting farmer feedback on two initiatives:

  1. Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards
  2. Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Organic Community

CCOF supports OTA’s effort to prioritize these initiatives in 2021 and encourages our members to fill out the associated surveys, described in detail below, by the November 30 deadline

Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards

Chickens outside, standards for shampoo, and strategies for avoiding GMO contamination are some of the requirements that organic farmers, businesses, and consumers have long requested. In the past 10 years, the organic industry has advanced 20 consensus recommendations for improvements to the organic standards via the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Still, USDA has not completed rulemaking on a single one.

  OTA asks all organic stakeholders to fill out the Continuous Improvement and Accountability survey and rank each unimplemented NOSB recommendation in order of importance to you. Your responses will help OTA prioritize what recommendations need to be implemented in the short-term and will inform our advocacy efforts. 

Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The Organic Trade Association is requesting farmer input through its first Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Survey. This survey asks for essential, though sensitive, demographic information like gender identity, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation. OTA wants to hear directly from farmers on how you would like to engage in work to address systemic inequities within our industry. The survey is 100 percent secure and optional, but your participation will help inform OTA’s vision and action plan over the next three to five years.

OTA update on Federal Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bills

Recently, the Senate released their Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations bills. The funding levels for organic programs are as follows:

National Organic Program will receive $18 million, a $2 million increase from FY20, doubling the funding for NOP in just five years. This is the same level of funding provided in the bill pass by the House.

Organic Transitions Research Program will receive $6 million, the same level of funding as FY20 and $1 million less than was included in the House bill.

Organic Data Initiative will receive $500,000 in supplemental funding (in addition to mandatory funding provided in the farm bill) to expand organic price reporting and organic data collection. Neither the House bill nor the FY20 bill included similar funding. 

The appropriations committee report included the following highlights:

  • National Organic Program. A healthy market for organic products requires a clear product distinction backed by a trusted, verified, and enforced label. The committee recognizes that the NOP, which enforces the organic regulations and ensures that they evolve to keep pace with consumer expectations, is essential. The committee provides an increase of $2 million to support proactive risk-based investigations and oversight, enhanced training for certifiers, and standards development.
  • Organic Data Initiative. The committee recognizes that accurate data for the production, pricing, and marketing of organic products is essential to maintaining stable markets, identifying fraud, creating risk management tools, tracking production trends, and increasing exports. Therefore, the committee directs the secretary to require mandatory annual reporting from accredited certifying agents on aggregate production areas, certified by crop and location, in order to accurately calculate organic acreage and yield estimates on a country-by-country basis. Additionally, the committee directs the secretary to submit a report to the committee, within one year of enactment of this act, detailing the department’s current collection and publication of organic data and identifying gaps. 
  • Rulemaking Delay. The committee is disappointed that USDA has not yet finalized the Origins of Livestock rule for the National Organic Program, as directed by the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (Public Law 116–94). The committee directs USDA to finalize the rule immediately.
  • Organic Dairy. The committee recognizes the importance of consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA “Organic” seal and notes the work that USDA has done to increase training and certifier consistency with respect to dairy operations. The committee directs AMS to continue to resolve inconsistencies in enforcement and interpretation of regulations, including those relating to the transition of livestock to organic dairy production and dry matter intake during the grazing season. AMS shall continue to conduct critical risk-based oversight, particularly for large, complex dairy operations.
  • Inaccurate Estimates. The committee is concerned that the department provided Congress with inaccurate estimates of the available unused funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (OCCSP) during the development of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Public Law 115–334). The overestimates have led to a funding gap that is leaving farmers with far less assistance for completing this expensive and essential step required to tap into the growing market for certified organic food in the United States. The committee directs the secretary to submit a report on how it will resolve inconsistencies in supplying Congress with estimates on funding available for the OCCSP and other farm bill programs.

Please contact with questions about the surveys or this legislative update.