We can at last welcome the newest appointees to the National Organic Standards Board. Congratulations and thank you for volunteering the time and expertise over the next five years. We look forward to hearing your perspectives on growing organic with integrity.
This issue brings a fresh look and a new section—Hot Topics! The first expert featured in the Hot Topics section is the newest member of the Wolf & Associates management team, John Foster. Enjoy, and do let us know what you think.
Wolf & Associates
HOT TOPIC: Q&A with W&A’s John Foster
Lack of Progress on Organic Regulatory Improvements
What is the issue?
The USDA has a backlog of proposed organic regulations and National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations and is asking for help to prioritize this work through a listening session scheduled for March 21 and public comment due by March 30.
Within the community, the Organic Trade Association has a task force dedicated to clearing the regulatory logjam and has submitted documents to USDA and to Congress to highlight how long organic regulations and NOSB recommendation have been delayed. The OTA is engaged in an active effort to keep the pressure on USDA through Congress. Other organic organizations have been concerned with the lack of progress and will be heard from during the listening sessions and public comments.
What are some of the consequences of delaying recommendations?
Shifting to organic methods in the US lags behind many areas of the world. About 1.6 percent of the world’s farmland is organic, yet in the United States, the share or organic farmland hovers just below one percent. Meanwhile, 3.4 percent of Europe’s farmland is organic.
Uncertainty about when recommendations will be taken up is one part of that problem. In addition, without continuous improvement in organic standards, measures like conservation agriculture can seem like easy substitutes for organic certification, particularly with the USDA’s emphasis on and funding for climate-smart agriculture initiatives.
What messages does the USDA most need to hear about this issue?
Organic agriculture is one of the highlights of American agriculture, yet is underfunded given its growth, place in the market, and economic and environmental potential. With the Administration’s focus on climate change solutions through agriculture, it is important that USDA, and our legislators, hear that funding for organic agriculture contributes to the economy and can contribute to public health via environmental benefits.
Take advantage of the request from USDA to share your thoughts on NOP priorities, funding to expand organic acreage and recognition of organic agriculture as a climate change solution.
John Foster, Senior Associate, brings deep and broad experience in the organic sector and especially relishes working with clients’ innovative ideas and long-term strategic initiatives that benefit their business and the planet.
On March 21, the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will hold a listening session on the National Organic Program’s rulemaking priorities and recommendations received from the National Organic Standards Board. AMS intends to use the information received from public comments to prioritize future rulemaking and standards development activities. Oral comment slots are filled; submit written comments via Regulations.gov, docket number AMS-NOP-21-85, by March 30, 2022.
USDA organic seal now a protected trademark
The United States Patent and Trademark Office provided final trademark approval for the USDA Organic seal, giving US Customs and Boarder Protection additional leverage to seize and destroy shipments when fraudulent claims have been made. Over the next few months, the National Organic Program will work with accredited certifiers and federal enforcement officials to put this new authority to use.
Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities to fund sustainable agriculture projects
A new USDA program will finance partnerships to support the production and marketing of climate-smart commodities via a set of pilot projects lasting one to five years. Small businesses, for-profit organizations other than small businesses, local and state governments, soil conservation districts, special districts, governmental organizations, tribal organizations, 501(c)(3) corporations, institutions of higher learning and education, land-grant universities, and minority-serving institutions and more can apply, with applications accepted until April 8 for larger projects of $5 million to $50 million, and until May 27 for projects costing between $250,000 and $5 million. This program defines a climate-smart commodity as an agricultural commodity that is produced using farming, ranching or forestry practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon. Many practices used in organic agriculture, such as cover crops, buffers, low/no till, manure management, and more, are among the practices of interest for this program.
Cover crops bring insurance benefits, too
As part of the part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, agricultural producers who have coverage under most crop insurance policies are eligible for a premium benefit if they planted cover crops during the 2022 crop year. The premium support is $5 per acre, but no more than the full premium amount owed. To receive the benefit for this program, producers must file a Report of Acreage form (FSA-578) for cover crops with USDA’s Farm Service Agency by March 15, 2022.
Comment on proposed rule by April 4
Based on October 2020 and April 2021 recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board, a proposed rule would change the National Organic Program to:
- Allow paper pots for use as a planting aid in organic crop production.
- Allow low-acyl gellan gum for use as a thickener, gelling agent, or stabilizer in organic food processing.
- Correct a spelling error on the National List to change “wood resin” to “wood rosin.”
Comment on the proposed rule by April 4 on the Federal Register, docket number AMS-NOP-21-0060.
New members appointed to National Organic Standards Board
USDA appointed four members to the National Organic Standards Board to serve five year terms until January 27, 2027:
Environmental and resource conservations seat:
Elizabeth (Liz) Graznak (Missouri) has a degree in Environmental Studies and owns and operates an 82 acre organic vegetable farm.
Public/consumer interest seat:
Allison Johnson (California) works for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Dr. Dilip Nandwani (Tennessee) is a professor at Tennessee State University
and holds a Ph.D. in Botany.
Javier Zamora (California) is with JSM Organics, a 100-acre vegetable/fruit farm, and has 20 years’ farming experience.
NOP honors certifiers
Oregon Tilth Certified Organic and MOFGA Certification Services, LLC received Director’s Awards for outstanding contributions to work in organic certification, and ten certifiers were honored for exceptionally high quality data for the Organic Integrity database:
- CCOF Certification Services, LLC
- Certificadora Mexicana de Productos y Procesos Ecologicos SC
- Clemson University
- Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
- LACON GmbH
- Marin Organic Certified Agriculture
- MOFGA Certification Services, LLC
- New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food
- Primus Auditing Operations
- Quality Certification Services
Worldwide organic market grew in 2020
In part as a result of the global pandemic, the worldwide market for organic food grew in 2020 to reach approximately $136 billion, up $15.9 billion, reports the The World of Organic Agriculture published by IFOAM—Organics International and the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL). The United States is the largest market for organic products ($51.7 billion), while Australia leads in organic agricultural area (35.7 million hectares), and Liechtenstein had the largest organic share of total farmland (41.6 percent).
Industry News & Notices
Food Sustainability Index recognizes leaders in sustainability
Sweden, Japan, Canada, Finland and Austria top the Food Sustainability Index’s list of world’s most sustainable food systems. The index, developed by Economist Impact, considers food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges, and these countries excelled in managing food loss and waste and nutritional challenges. Good Samaritan Laws that reduce or eliminate liability from donating unsold food and allowing companies to switch from using ’best by’ dates to ‘use by’ dates are two examples of policies that reduce food waste. Unfortunately, the index also found that sustainable and healthy diets remain unaffordable for many in lower-income countries, and poses challenges for others during this time of high inflation. Regarding agricultural practices, fewer then 50 percent of the countries in the index are mainstreaming climate change into their agricultural policies. Finland, Estonia, Austria, Tanzania and Sweden are the best performers on sustainable agriculture.
New report to look at what drives consumers to organic products
In a biannual update to its Organic & Natural report, the Hartman Group includes many of the motivations for choosing organic products. They’ve observed that organic is one of the most widely recognized food and beverage certifications, and note that while health and wellness motivations continue to be central drivers of organic purchasing, connections to sustainability have been emerging as another key driver, especially the rubric of regenerative agriculture and connections to soil health. For example, Hartman research finds that consumers tend to view ‘regenerative agriculture’ in a positive light and see it as an agricultural method that goes beyond current organic standards in terms of sustainability and as a proactive approach to restoring and rebuilding the soil. They found:
- 57% of consumers are aware of regenerative agriculture (up 10 percentage points from 2019)
- 75% of consumers are aware of soil health as an environmental concern (up 13 percentage points from 2019).
Organic produce sales up 5.5 percent
The Organic Produce Network offers a free overview of the organic produce industry performance in 2021 in its State of Organic Produce report. Last year, organic fresh produce sales topped $9 billion, up 5.5 percent from the previous year, and once again outpaced non-organically grown produce gains. Organic produce sales represent 12 percent of the market by dollar value, and 7 percent by volume (up 2 percent). Within the United States, the South showed the largest increases in sales and volume of organic produce. Leading categories by sales were packaged salads, berries and apples, with bananas, carrots and apples leading in volume. The report also covers performance of the top 20 best selling categories by region.
No easy answer for what labels drive sustainable consumer behavior
A literature review commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and published by Wageningen University & Research suggests that environmental, fair trade and climate neutral labels raise awareness but do not necessarily drive more sustainable consumer behavior. The review also encourages combining labels and linking them to other drivers of behavior and emphasizing other benefits such as health. Labeling systems such as green-yellow-red ‘traffic light’ health scores make it easier for consumers, but the review also found that groups with less sustainable consumption habits were less likely to be reached by current labeling systems. More.
IOIA offers free trainings in Kentucky
In an effort to foster a strong career path for organic inspectors, the International Organic Inspectors Association will offer an organic inspector training and apprenticeship program in Kentucky in April and May. Working in partnership with Kentucky Department of Agriculture; Kentucky State University; University of Kentucky; Organic Association of Kentucky; and Organic Integrity Cooperative Guild, IOIA offers inspector training there free of registration fees, thanks to funding from the National Organic Program. Those who pass the IOIA basic training will be eligible to participate in the Apprenticeship Program, which includes work with an experienced mentor to complete an intensive week-long course of inspections and mentor support for a year.
Canada Organic Trade Association launches petition to protect organic seeds
In response to a proposal by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to exempt many new genetically engineered foods and seeds from regulation, the Canada Organic Trade Association launched a write-in campaign to continue regulating all genetically engineered plants under the Seeds Act. The petition asserts that without government oversight, farmers will not be able to identify organic seeds from GE/GMO seeds, contamination will increase in the environment and food supply thereby risking organic markets, increasing the chance of patent lawsuits and making it very challenging for consumers to know what is in their food supply. More.
China approves gene-edited crops
New preliminary guidelines for China’s regulation of genetically engineered crops will allow those that have been created via gene editing without inserting genes or DNA from other plant or animal species to garner approval in one to two years, rather than up to six years. Instead of extensive, large-scale field trials, as required for genetically modified crops, gene edited crops will only need laboratory data and small-scale field trials. It is unclear if the new guidelines apply to crops that include DNA from other varieties of the same species. More.
Nominate your favorite for a Sustainable Food Award
Five categories of Sustainable Food Awards presented by Ecovia Intelligence are open to food & beverage firms, ingredient suppliers, packaging companies, industry associations, NGOs and related organizations. Enter by April 29 to be recognized for:
- New Sustainable Product
- Sustainable Ingredient
- Sustainable Packaging
- Sustainability Pioneer
- Sustainability Leadership
Awardees will be honored at a reception during the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam June 16.
March 8 is Climate Day at Natural Products Expo West
The Climate Collaborative will host a full day of speakers and focused conversation during Climate Day March 8 as part of Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim California. The day’s events are included with an exhibit hall badge, but space is limited. RSVP online.
OMRI to seek new Executive Director
After serving as the Organic Materials Review Institute’s executive director since 2010, Peggy Miars announced her retirement will start in July. As a result, the organization’s board will work with a search firm to find the next Executive Director. OMRI also has openings for Product Review Coordinators, Review Program Specialists, and Contract Inspectors. Congratulations, Peggy, and enjoy your new adventures!
Key staff openings at OFRF
The Organic Farming Research Foundation seeks a Deputy Director to provide day-to-day oversight of internal operations and a Policy and Programs Manager to conduct in-depth analysis of federal and state funded policy and programs. Both jobs are full-time and remote. More.