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June 2021 News & Policy Updates for the Organic Industry

“Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”  ~Langston Hughes

President’s Message

US organic product sales hit a new high in 2020 to nearly $62 billion, the largest single-year dollar increase – almost $7 billion – and up 12.4 percent from 2019.
 
Within the food category, organic meat sales are still disproportionately small as a percentage of total sales, but showed the second-highest growth rate of any organic category, up 24 percent over 2019. Organic meat sales have lagged for decades for several reasons. The most significant obstacle was that USDA, which must approve meat labels, prohibited ‘organic’ on those labels until there was a recognized standard and the Organic Foods Production Act was fully implemented. After several years without organic meat, USDA agreed to approve organic labels on products inspected by organic certifiers the USDA had accredited to ISO-65 standards. As a result, less expensive competing label claims got a big head start back in the 1980s and 1990s.
 
Fast-forward 25 years. The USDA is awakening to the relevance and values of organic agriculture and products, and the difference is striking. Organic is recognized not only for its economic value to farmers and rural communities, but also for benefits to climate mitigation, and more. Secretary Vilsack’s supportive address to the OTA annual meeting last week showed commitment to real progress:  More money for organic research, funding transition to organic and certification cost share; improved livestock standards; and key hires and appointments familiar with organic principles. This all bodes well for the continuing growth of the sector.
 
At Wolf & Associates we’re growing too. I’m very pleased to announce that John Foster is joining the Wolf & Associates management team. John combines 30 years of diverse practical experience in farming, handling, organic inspection, management of certification, and service on the NOSB with a passion for all things organic. We’re excited to have John as part of our team to help your projects and products succeed. Welcome aboard, John!

Bill Wolf
President 
Wolf & Associates

Regulatory Updates

UNITED STATES

Budget proposal beefs up funding for organic faming and climate initiatives
President Biden’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 includes $14 billion more across most agencies to tackle issues related to climate change. More specifically, the USDA’s proposed budget includes $1.5 billion for climate-smart agriculture, research and clean energy programs such as the Civilian Climate Corps ($46 million). The proposed budget would increase the National Organic Program funding by $1 million to $19 million; with $7 million for the Organic Transition Research Program. For mandatory programs funded by the Farm Bill, the Organic Research and Extension Initiative will receive $28 million, and the Organic Certification Cost-Share Program includes $19 million through the end of fiscal year 2023. In addition, EPA’s budget gets a 21% boost, and includes $936 million for a new Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative at EPA.
 
Livestock practices rule expected in 6-9 months
As a result of reconsidering the prior administration’s interpretation of the Organic Foods Production Act, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has directed the National Organic Program to conduct rulemaking on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule and to include a proposal to end the use of porches as outdoor access in organic poultry production. He published an announcement on June 17 and indicated a new rule could be out in six to nine months.
 
OTA seeks reinstatement of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule
On June 18, the Organic Trade Association asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to vacate immediately the Department of Agriculture’s 2018 withdrawal of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule, and to order USDA to reinstate the organic animal welfare regulation that was published on January 19, 2017. In its motion for summary judgment, the trade association argued that USDA fundamentally dismissed the intent of Congress regarding the department’s authority over organic animal welfare, failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) which governs the process by which federal agencies develop and issue regulations, and buried the economic benefits of the OLPP regulation while inflating its costs. More.
 
Secretary of Agriculture highlights actions to benefit the organic sector
During the Organic Trade Association annual meeting June 16, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized the importance of the organic sector, the value-added opportunities it offers, and its role in climate-friendly agriculture. Topics he covered included:

  • Working to finalize the Origin of Livestock rule in 2021
  • Re-establishing the position of USDA Organic Policy Advisor
  • Increasing funding for USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share program
  • Expanding the procurement for USDA’s emergency feeding programs, especially for smaller distribution systems
  • Expanding processing capacity in the US
  • Beefing up organic enforcement and increased numbers and diversity of workers in the inspection and certification process
  • Prioritizing climate-smart agriculture and regenerative practices, and creating new revenue streams for climate-smart farms

More.
 
Pandemic assistance includes additional organic certification cost share funding
As part of the Pandemic Assistance initiative, USDA pledged to continue Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments and to provide aid to producers and businesses left behind. Expect support to timber harvesters, biofuels, dairy farmers and processors, livestock farmers, contract growers of poultry, as well as grants for PPE and up to $20 million more for organic certification cost share. More.
 
New program helps with cover crops
As part of the Pandemic Cover Crop Program, Agricultural producers who have coverage under most crop insurance policies are eligible for a premium benefit from USDA if they planted cover crops during this crop year and filed a Report of Acreage by June 15. The benefit will reduce crop insurance premiums by $5 per insured acre.
 
NOSB plans for in-person meeting in October
The next National Organic Standards Board meeting, scheduled for October 19-21, will be in person at the Holiday Inn Downtown-Arena, Sacramento, California, subject to Federal, State and local guidance. The meeting will also be webcast. Oral comments will be October 13 and 14 via webinar and at the meeting.

WORLDWIDE

Switzerland rejects pesticide ban
Swiss voters rejected two referendums designed to reduce synthetic pesticide use and protect drinking water and food in a vote on June 13. One proposal outlawed synthetic pesticides while the other would only provide agricultural subsidies to farmers who did not use them. Both proposals were rejected, with 61 percent of votes against them. More.
 
South Korea tightens organic regulations as demand grows
New stricter regulations for organic foods in South Korea will cover processed foods with over 70 percent organic ingredients and those which claim ‘no pesticides introduced.’  Only certified foods will be allowed to use environmentally friendly language such as ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘pesticide free.’ Despite high prices, South Koreans continue to seek out organic products, which are seen as healthy food. Popular products include processed fruit and vegetable products, fresh fruits and vegetables, juice, dairy, baby products and snacks. Imports comprise over 70 percent of ingredients in locally-produced processed products. The government has been encouraging farmers to shift to organic farming to help meet demand. More
 
OTA presses for clarity on trade with Mexico
The Organic Trade Association, based on input from its members, raised several issues with USDA and Mexico’s National Agro-Alimentary Health, Safety and Quality Service (SENASICA) concerning Mexico’s new organic regulations. US organic exports for sale in Mexico must be certified to Mexico’s Organic Products Law after December 31, 2021, an extension of the previous June 26 deadline. Key topics for OTA include using stickers to adapt labeling for Mexico, identifying products in the stream of commerce before the December 31, 2021 deadline, training for retailers on the deadline, how to identify/segregate imported ingredients for products to be exported from Mexico, and waiving on-site inspections during the pandemic.
 
Get up to speed on exporting to Canada
Health Canada offers a free self-paced Nutrition Labeling Online Course, which offers US-based exporters information on requirements for Canada’s nutrition labels. In addition, the US Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration will host a webinar June 24 on the Canada Boarder Services Agency’s Assessment and Revenue Management Program (CARM), which will digitize and streamline customs procedures. CARM will be mandatory for all US non-resident importers beginning in the spring of 2022. The webinar will introduce the new program; register online.

News & Notices

FDA plans symbol to denote “healthy” food
As part of developing a symbol to help shoppers identify packaged food products that meet Food and Drug Administration’s definition of “healthy,” agency seeks comment on plans to conduct research on potential front-of-package symbols. Use of such symbols on packaging would be voluntary. The research studies—an experimental study and two surveys—would be used to help determine the need for the symbol and fine-tune the graphics. The docket also includes a literature review on healthy symbols and drafts of the symbol designs. Comment on the plans (FDA-2021-N-0336-0001) at www.regulations.gov by July 6.
 
US organic sales up 12 percent in 2020
The Organic Trade Association’s 2021 Organic Industry Survey showed that US organic food and non-food sales reached $61.9 billion in 2020, up 12.4 percent from 2019, when growth was 5 percent. Food sales totaled $56.4 billion, and about 6 percent of the food sold in the United States in 2020 was certified organic. Part of the surge in sales is a result of the shift to home cooking and pantry stocking driven by the pandemic. Fresh, canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables comprised the largest category, with total sales of $20.4 billion. Organic fruits and vegetables are now more than 15 percent of the fruits and vegetables sold in the US. Sales of organic non-food products reached $5.4 billion, up 8.5 percent and only slightly below the 9.2 percent reported in 2019.
 
Organic Trade Association names new board members and officers
After elections and appointments, the Organic Trade Association’s board of directors for 2021-2022 will be:

  • Re-elected for another three-year term: Paul Schiefer, Sr. Director of Sustainability, Amy’s Kitchen and Tracy Favre, Owner, Fig Hill Farm Consulting
  • Newly elected members for three-year terms: Javier Zamora, Grower/Owner, JSM Organics and Matthew Dillon, VP Government Affairs & Advocacy, Clif Bar & Company
  • Appointed for another three-year term: David Lively, Pioneer Emeritus, Organically Grown Company.
  • Continuing board terms: Domenic Borrelli (Danone North America), Doug Crabtree (Vilicus Farms), Ben Diesl (Cal-Organic/Grimmway Farms), Kim Dietz (Firmenich), Avi Garbow (Patagonia Inc.), Kellee James (Mercaris Corporation), Bob Kaake (Slice of Kaake Consulting), Britt Lundgren (Stonyfield), Mike Menes (True Organic Products), and Adam Warthesen (CROPP Cooperative/Organic Valley)
  • Officers selected: Kim Dietz, president, Paul Schiefer, vice president, Domenic Borrelli, treasurer and Britt Lundgren, secretary.

 
OMRI suspends review of certain sanitizers, disinfectants and cleaners
The Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) will no longer review or list sanitizers, cleaners or disinfectants formulated with synthetic, non-National List materials until its board of directors determines if such reviews are part of OMRI’s scope. These types of products are allowed in organic crop production as long as contact with soil and crops is prevented; an operation’s organic certifier verifies how contact is prevented. More.
 
Learn more about OMRI’s early days
Bill Wolf, the Organic Materials Review Institute’s founding president, joined a panel of OMRI’s founders for a presentation on the formation and early history of this vital organization.
 
America is All In to host free Hill Day for Climate Action
Sponsored in part by the Climate Collaborative, America is All In, a broad coalition of cities, states, tribal nations, businesses, healthcare educational and cultural organizations and faith groups, will host a Hill Day for Climate Action July 12-14. Held entirely online, the event will include briefings and meetings with US congressional and administration offices to advocate for investments in infrastructure that prioritize emissions reductions, good-paying clean energy jobs, climate resilience and environmental justice and policies to mitigate climate risk and put the US on a path to reach the commitment to reduce emissions by 50% – 52% from 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. Register online.
 
Congratulations to Georgia Organics, OTA Member of the Year
For almost 50 years, Georgia Organics has been promoting sustainable foods and organic farms in Georgia. During the pandemic, Georgia Organics helped keep hard-hit families supplied with healthy foods, enabling struggling farmers to maintain their markets and their livelihoods. Alice Rolls, President and CEO of Georgia Organics, and Michael Wall, Director of Farmer Services for Georgia Organics, accepted the Organic Trade Association Member of the Year award on June 16.
 
Register for Organic World Congress
Registration is open for IFOAM—Organics International’s Organic World Congress on September 6-14 both in Rennes, France and online. Billed as the world’s largest organic gathering, the event features 80 conference sessions and eight pre-conferences on six main themes: Leadership, Farmers and Advisors, Science, Supply and Value Chain, Culture and Education, and Stakeholders. More.