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October 2020 News & Policy Updates for the Organic Industry

“If people don’t vote, everything stays the same. You can protest until the sky turns yellow or the moon turns blue, and it’s not going to change anything if you don’t vote.”
~Dolores Huerta

President’s Message

Here in Virginia, fall colors are in full swing, and, despite all the unexpected and unprecedented challenges of 2020, we do have much to be grateful for. Our office’s organic demonstration gardens are ready for winter with nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Working from home has boosted my farm harvests and enabled improved fermented food storage. In addition, my farm reminds me of how much organic operators and the public at large are learning about the connections between climate change, carbon collection, and soil care.
 
Meanwhile, the pandemic and tragic weather events have both awakened a stronger awareness of the importance of eating healthier foods and the impacts our actions have on our environment. The challenge ahead will be to maintain and increase that awareness and leverage it for socially responsible behaviors that drive business.
 
In that context, Wolf & Associates will be asking that the NOSB review its priorities for 2021 to focus on issues that encourage and expand organic acreage in the U.S. and to carefully assess other issues before allocating time to them. You can attend the virtual NOSB public comments and meetings later this month from the comfort of your home or office.
 
The coming year will also bring a peaceful transition of NOSB members as new terms begin. We’d like to thank Jesse Buie, Emily Oakley, Dan Seitz, A-dae Romero-Briones, and Scott Rice for their service these past few years, welcome the new members (see below).
 
In the meantime, please stay healthy, vote and be safe.
 
Bill Wolf
President 
Wolf & Associates

Regulatory Updates

UNITED STATES
 
NOSB meeting to be broadcast live
The National Organic Standards Board meeting, October 28-30 from noon to 5 p.m. EDT, will be held via Zoom, and is open to the public. In addition, anyone can sign up to listen to the pre-meeting public comment sessions October 20 and 22, noon to 5 p.m. EDT.
 
NOSB appoints new members
Five new members will join the National Organic Standards Board in January 2021 for five-year terms. Filling seats for farmers are Amy Burch, president of Cyclone Farms, an organic family farm in Nebraska; and Logan Petrey, the southeast organic ranch manager of 2,000 acres for Grimmway Farms locations in Georgia and Florida. Two seats for the public/consumer Interest will be filled by Dr. Carolyn Dimitri, an applied economist and on the  faculty of New York University; and Brian Caldwell a founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York who has been involved in organic agriculture for more than 40 years as an educator, researcher, and farmer. Kyla Smith, the Certification Director for Pennsylvania Certified Organic, will fill a certifier seat.
 
FSIS seeks comment on labeling approval rule changes
The US Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) plans to expand the types of meat, poultry and egg product labels available for generic approval because the label is in compliance with regulations, and to stop evaluating labels that are eligible for generic approval. In the proposed rule, the following labels could no longer be voluntarily submitted for approval:

  • Labels on products for export
  • Labels that list organic ingredients in the ingredients statement
  • Labels that display geographical landmarks
  • Labels that identify the absence of certain ingredients, such as ‘preservative free’ or ‘made without soy’
  • Labels of products that receive voluntary FSIS inspection

Comment on the proposed rule, ID FSIS-2019-0019-0001, by November 13.
 
Crop insurance agency provides some flexibility due to COVID
Due to some of the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic, the Risk Management Agency is providing some flexibility in some of the crop insurance policy requirements. For example, approved insurance providers may allow a policyholder to report acreage as certified organic, or as acreage in transition to organic, when the policyholder certifies that they have requested, in writing, a written certification or other written documentation from a certifying agent on or before the acreage reporting deadline. Producers must continue to use generally recognized organic practices in accordance with their policy. More.
 
Organic learning center adds courses
Four new courses—Recordkeeping, Organic System Plans,  Certification Review Essentials, and Natural Resources & Biodiversity—are now part of the National Organic Program’s Organic Integrity Learning Center. Self-register for free courses online
 
California repeals registration number requirement
As part of California’s SB-406 Health Care omnibus bill, approved by the Governor Sept. 29, organic processors and handlers no longer have to print their California organic registration number on all transfer document including bills of lading and invoices. The change brings the health and safety code in line with the food and agriculture code, and was supported by processors and certifiers.
 
 
WORLDWIDE
 
EU seeks stakeholder comment on organic action plan
Citizens of the European Union and stakeholders can comment  through October 23 on the EU Commission’s roadmap to boost organic agriculture, with additional public consultation through November 27. Part of the Green Deal and its Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, the Action Plan on Organic Agriculture will facilitate the EU’s goal of having 25 percent of farmed land as organic by 2030. A three-pronged approach will stimulate demand for organic products, increase the amount of farmland in organic production, and enhance the role of organic production in the fight against climate change. The Commission intends to adopt the plan in early 2021, and devote €40 million to organic farming. More.
 
Sales of—and trust in—organic products grow in Canada
Organic product sales in Canada now represent 3.2 percent of all grocery sales, according to new research from the Canada Organic Trade Association. The organization commissioned a poll conducted by Leger 360 that revealed organic shoppers tend to be younger, with those aged 18-24 choosing organic for 46 percent of their weekly grocery purchases, compared to 25 percent for those aged 35-44. Not surprisingly, for those who purchase organic products, fruits and vegetables are purchased most often. Meat and poultry purchases, however, showed the largest increase of any product category, up to 32 percent in 2020 from 26 percent in 2016. Grocery stores are the leading channel for organic sales, with 82 percent of Canadians who buy organic food regularly buying there. Furthermore, trust in organic products has also increased, with 55 percent of Canadians trusting the Canada Organic Certified logo, compared to 39 percent in 2016.
 
New Zealand’s Green Party touts plans to boost organic farming
New Zealanders have the opportunity to consider the Green Party’s $297 million plan to support more climate-friendly agricultural practices when they go to the polls this October. The plans would provide funding over three years to transition to regenerative and organic farming, including processing infrastructure and a new center for on-farm research. New Zealand’s proposed national organic standards, meanwhile, are still with the Primary Production Select Committee, with a committee report expected soon. More.

News & Notices

Final Rule for Conservation Stewardship Program disappoints sustainable ag advocates
Changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program, as seen in the Final Rule published October 8, contradict decisions of Congress and may violate the law, asserts the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Despite the addition of a new emphasis on soil health, the group found several provisions troubling, including ones that appear to favor larger farms over mid-sized farms and those new to the program. The CSP provides financial assistance on a whole farm basis for conservation activities that improve soil health, sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, slow erosion, improve water and air quality, support wildlife and pollinator habitat, and conserve water and energy. The program encourages active management and maintenance of current conservation efforts, expanding and improving on them, and adding new conservation activities.
 
EPA/USDA program promotes local food
Local governments, Indian tribes, and nonprofit institutions and organizations proposing to work in a neighborhood, town, or city of any size anywhere in the United States are eligible for technical assistance through the Local Foods, Local Places program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program can help communities revitalize their economy, promote local foods, improve health, and protect the environment. Applications are due Oct. 30.
 
OTA to host webinar on national ag survey results
The Organic Trade Association will host a webinar October 23 on changes in acreage, production, and sales data for a variety of organic crop and livestock commodities as well as organic marketing and agricultural practices since the first National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2016 Organic Survey.  Registration for the session is free for OTA and its Farmers Advisory Council members, and $149 for others.
 
New USDA resource hub assists local food systems responding to COVID-19
As local and regional food systems deal with changes brought about by pandemic conditions, the USDA offers a new hub to develop, share and assess resources. Organic producers may find it useful, as the site aggregates information on a wide variety of topics, including farm to school, farm tourism, food processing centers, food service, farm tactics in changing conditions, and more.
 
Sustainable business groups form alliance
The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) and Social Venture Circle (SVC) have formed a strategic alliance, and will work together to foster environmental and economic justice. ASBC will serve as the policy and advocacy group for the combined entity and maintain its focus on the circular economy, climate and energy, infrastructure, and the high-road workplace. SVC will continue connecting entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate leadership teams with funding and capabilities to create businesses that contribute to a regenerative economic system.
 
Natural Products Expo West 2021 moves to May
The Natural Products Expo West trade show will be May 24-27, 2021 instead of March. The show was rescheduled in order to offer more time to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic travel and group gathering restrictions.

GMO News

Biotech regulators to hold stakeholder meeting
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s Biotechnology Regulatory Services will hold its annual Stakeholder Meeting online on Thursday, October 29, 2020, 1:00pm – 3:00pm (EDT). The meeting will include information about implementing the new Sustainable, Ecological, Consistent, Uniform, Responsible, Efficient (SECURE) biotechnology regulations; review of FY 2020 and a look ahead to FY 2021 priorities. Stakeholders are invited to submit other topics for discussion by October 14 and to register for the meeting.
 
Comment on GMO petunia deregulation
The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is seeking public comment on Plant Pest Risk Assessment and draft Environmental Assessment documents related to potential deregulation of petunias genetically engineered with the A1 gene of maize to produce orange flowers. Comment on Docket APHIS-2019-0037 by October 28.