Merrigan lists sector priorities | The Survey Says | Comment reminders

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Priorities for the Organic Sector
Q&A with Organic Leader Katheleen Merrigan

What has gone well since the implementation of the National Organic Program?

A huge number of things have gone well! The USDA Organic label is the world’s eco-label of choice. The National Organic program has done a good job, and organic is gaining ground across the USDA. The 2017 Census of Agriculture showed that organic farming is luring in more new farmers and ranchers, compared to their counterparts that are not going organic. The agronomic and environmental benefits organic producers have witnessed on their land are being verified in scientific journals. The market has grown substantially, and 82% of Americans buy organic at least occasionally. Organic products are no longer a niche market, but are available in stores like Walmart, Costco, and Target—signs that organic is becoming more accessible to average people—and becoming instrumental in the way people grow and consume agricultural products.

What are the top priorities for the organic sector now?

First, we have work to do at USDA. The organic sector has been challenged by inordinate delays in rulemaking. Rather than remaining the avant-garde sector of agriculture, organic agriculture has been held back by USDA and is now threatened by competing claims.

Second, we still have work to do with consumer education. I think organic is the original climate-smart label. In the early days, we dumbed down our message to focus on very few things—lack of pesticide residues, for example. With rise of interest in regenerative agriculture, I worry that some of our earlier messaging will trip us up. Not only do we need the positive messages about organic agriculture, but we need to be strategic in how we disassemble the negative messages about organic.

Third, we need to encourage the next generation of farmers and ranchers. The United States imports $2.3 billion of organic products per year—and that’s just for the 100 items tracked by the federal government. We know that figure is a huge undercount. When I see those import statistics, I think it is opportunity lost—we could be putting young people on the land, creating jobs, and benefiting communities. The new transition assistance will help, but land access is also a real challenge. Encouraging conversation, as the American Farmland Trust has been doing, on how important it is for people to preserve farmland and create urban agriculture, where housing is constructed around a garden or farm that provides food, can help. Finding ways to put organic farms on the land is not a priority for the Farm Service Agency, but it could be.

The Swette Center for Sustainable Agriculture’s report on The Critical To-Do List for Organic Agriculture included 46 Recommendations for the President—many of them address these priorities. 

Where do you see organic in the next five years?

There is a lot of innovation in the ag sector. The organic sector will have to figure out which innovations are compatible.

My team at the Swette Center is also finishing up two new reports—one with the Organic Trade Association and the Organic Farmers Association about the future of organic agriculture—and another with Natural Resources Defense Council and Californians for Pesticide Reform examining organic agriculture’s contributions to health, the economy, and climate.

Katheleen MerriganKathleen A. Merrigan is a professor in the School of Sustainability and executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. From 2009 to 2013, Merrigan was Deputy Secretary and COO of the US Department of Agriculture, where she led efforts to support local food systems. She is known for authoring the law establishing national standards for organic food and the federal definition of sustainable agriculture. Merrigan is a board member of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, trustee of CIFOR-ICRAF, on the advisory committees for OFRF and the Heartland Health Research Alliance, and is a Venture Partner in Astanor Ventures. She holds a PhD in Public Policy and Environmental Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Master in Public Affairs from University of Texas at Austin, and BA from Williams College.

Organic Regulatory Updates

UNITED STATES

NOSB Meeting Agenda Posted
Look For Our Meeting Preview Next Week
The agenda and materials for the National Organic Standards Board October 25-27 meeting in Sacramento, California, provided COVID conditions do not deteriorate, and webcast via Zoom, is now available. Public comment webinars will be October 18-20; sign up for a comment slot and submit written comments by September 29.

Comment On Organic Livestock And Poultry Standards Proposed Rule
The much-awaited USDA Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards proposed rule is open for comments until October 11. The proposed rule codifies requirements for poultry and livestock living conditions, animal care, transport and slaughter. The poultry living standards set maximum indoor and outdoor stocking densities. USDA proposes a one year implementation period for the changes, except for poultry space requirements, and seeks comment on those time frames as well as whether the proposed rule is clear and if the requirements align with current practices and animal welfare certification programs. Send comments on AMS-NOP-21-0073 via www.federalregister.gov by October 11. 

Comment On How To Deal With Inert Ingredients In Pesticides
In an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, USDA National Organic Program seeks comments on five options for rectifying how to regulate ‘inert’ ingredients in pesticides allowed for use in organic production. The National List currently uses Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inert ingredient lists, but these lists are no longer maintained by EPA and are out of date. Among the options are: allowing inert ingredients permitted by EPA in minimum risk pesticides; allowing specific inert ingredients permitted by EPA; replace EPA List 3 with EPA-allowed inert ingredients of semiochemical dispensers; or listing inert ingredients individually on the National List. Comments on docket number AMS-NOP-21-0008 via www.federalregister.gov are due November 1.

New Funding Will Support Organic Agriculture
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) will invest $300 million, including with American Rescue Plan funds, in a new Organic Transition Initiative, including a paid mentorship program via regional partners, direct payments to farmers through a new organic conservation practice standard, and market development.

What’s Up With Enforcement? Two Reports Tell All

  • USDA’s 2022 Organic Oversight and Enforcement Report shows the full range of oversight an enforcement the agency conducts. In 2021, USDA closed 324 complaint cases, with 59% resulting in voluntary compliance, 19% having no violation, and 10% referred for investigation. Other outcomes include: administrative action (4%), fraudulent certificates (4%), settlement, civil penalty or appeal (3%) or referral for criminal investigation (1%). That year 626 operations in 47 countries that lost certification through suspension or revocation. Approximately 38% of operations certified to the National Organic Program are outside the United States. The report also covers import oversight, livestock compliance, and more.
  • The National Organic Program (NOP) also published the third quarter enforcement dashboard for fiscal year 2022, covering July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022. As of June 30, 2022, 476 cases are in progress, with 55% about uncertified operations making organic claims; 19% concerning fraud; 11% on pesticide residues; 7% on labeling errors; 6% about prohibited practices; and 2% on prohibited substance use.

WORLDWIDE

Comment On Organic Standards Interpretation
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, in partnership with the Organic Federation of Canada, has developed the Organic Standards Interpretation Committee (Agri-SIC) to provide guidance on issues related to the National Standards for Organic Agriculture (CAN/CGSB-32.310 and CAN/CGSB-32.311). As part of that guidance, the public can comment on proposed answers to stakeholder questions. Comments are due September 22, 2022 via cfia.opr-rpb.acia@canada.ca.

Canada Organic Trade Association To Celebrate Organic Week
Starting Monday, September 12, Canada Organic Trade Association will offer a series of webinars covering business challenges, new sales and production data, certification, the labor market, and more. The webinars are free, and require advance registration.

GMO News

Canada Organic Trade Association Calls For Stakeholder Action To Protect Organic
As part of efforts to oppose regulatory guidance which exempts genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with no foreign DNA from the Novel Food Regulations, resulting in an end to government oversight over these (gene-edited) GMOs, Canada Organic Trade Association is asking for people to sign their petition.

Thailand’s New Food Labels To Show Use Of Genetically Modified Ingredients
Thailand’s national food labeling rules will require food manufacturers to declare the use of genetically modified ingredients. ‘Genetically modified’ must be declared alongside the food name on the label if the product contains only one ingredient; multiple-ingredient products must also clearly declare the GMO status alongside each ingredient. In addition, declaring that foods are GMO-free will no longer be allowed. Some exceptions to the requirements exist. The regulations are expected to be enforced beginning in October 2022. Details.

Government Touts GMOs
The US Food and Drug Administration recently released new “Feed Your Mind” educational materials on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to consumers, health educators, dietitians, and other health care professionals. Designed to ‘help increase consumer understanding of GMOs’ “Feed Your Mind” is an education initiative launched in 2020 and was developed in partnership with the US Department of Agriculture and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Inside the Beltway

Inflation Reduction Act To Offer Conservation Funding
As part of the Inflation Reduction Act, conservation programs at the USDA will receive the first distribution in 2023 of what will total $20 billion over 10 years. One example—the Conservation Stewardship Program, which helps defray costs of cover cropping, establishing hedgerows and buffer strips, and other practices, will have an additional $3.5 billion annually over the next four years. The Act also includes $6 billion to address discrimination in accessing USDA’s agricultural lending programs and relief for farmers whose agricultural operations are at financial risk due to USDA-backed loans. More.

Grants Will Support Grazing Land Conservation
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing up to $12 million to expand access to conservation technical assistance for livestock producers and increase the use of conservation practices on grazing lands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting proposals through its Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) until September 22, 2022. Grants will go to nonprofit organizations, farmer or rancher organizations, state and local conservation agencies, Agricultural Extension Services, Native American tribal governments and organizations, and universities or institutions, with preference for projects that:

  • Address local natural resource concerns.
  • Use climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices and principles.
  • Encourage existing and new partnerships through emphasizing equity in advancing the resource needs of underserved communities.

Identify and implement strategies to quantify, monitor, report on and verify conservation benefits associated with grazing management systems.

Organic Industry News

California Bumps Up Support For Organic Transition
California’s state budget includes $5 million for grants, technical assistance, education, and outreach to support farmers and ranchers to transition to organic. The program also sets aside funds for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. California Certified Organic Farmers advocated for the program, and for additional funds for the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Organic Agriculture Institute (OAI).

OMRI Stops Reviewing Certain Sanitizers And Cleaners
To provide consistency across its review classes, the Organic Materials Review Institute will no longer review products that formulate with non-National List sanitizers, disinfectants and cleaners. This change does not directly impact a certifying agent’s power to approve the use of these products. These products, which were removed from the OMRI Products Lists effective August 4, are not prohibited for use in organic production if contact with organic soil, crops, animals or products is prevented.

Organic Food For Young And Old In Zurich
Zurich’s city council approved a plan to require that at least 50% of the food in the city’s retirement and care centers, hospitals, day care centers, schools, canteens and cafeterias must be organic.

Taiwan Restricts PVC In Food Packaging
Due to environmental and sustainability concerns, Taiwan began restricting the use of polyvinyl chloride in food packaging on July 1, 2022. The first restrictions are for the use of flat packaging materials. Two other Asia-Pacific nations have already banned the materials, with South Korea taking the lead in 2020, and New Zealand phasing out PVC food packaging starting in April 2022.

Organic Fertilizer Market Projected To Grow As More Farms Go Organic
According to Future Marketing Insights, the North America organic fertilizers market is expected to reach US$ 1.63 billion, totaling 4,327.5 KT in 2021. Canada is expected to contribute over 31.2% of the market share in North America in 2021, while the U.S. organic fertilizers market is expected to grow at 7.1% CAGR through 2031. More.

The Survey Says…

Sustainable Packaging Influences Purchases
Shorr Packaging’s 2022 Sustainable Packaging Consumer Report, which surveyed 1113 consumers across the United States, found that 66% were extremely or very concerned about the environmental impact of packaging, and 68% would be open to switching to another brand because they offer sustainable packaging. For 59% of those surveyed, the food and beverage sector is doing a good job using sustainable packaging. More.

Shoppers Want Plant-Based Foods To Be Organic
According to the Food Industry Association’s first “Power of Plant-Based” report, demand for plant-based products is likely to increase, as 16% of shoppers intend to increase consumption ‘a lot’ and nearly a third intend to increase use ‘a little.’ More than half of shoppers eat a meat, dairy, or seafood alternative at least occasionally, and the most often used plant-based foods are fruits and vegetables and beans, nuts or grains. Nearly half of shoppers purchase carbohydrate alternatives, such as cauliflower pizza crust, at least occasionally. ‘Healthy’ is the term most often associated with plant-based, but ‘organic’ is an important attribute for 40% of shoppers. More.

Young Farmers Favor Regenerative Practices
In a survey of 10,000 young and Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) farmers across the country, the National Young Farmers Coalition found that:

  • 86% of young farmers identify their practices as regenerative
  • 78% of young farmers identify as first-generation farmers (not from farming families)
  • Black and Indigenous farmers reported challenges engaging with the USDA at higher rates
  • 73% of young farmers have experienced at least one climate impact on their farm in the past year,
  • 88% percent of young farmers attribute changes in weather events they are experiencing on their farms to climate change

Read more in the Building a Future with Farmers 2022: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer Survey.
 
Worldwide, Environmental Concerns Top Population Health
For the first time in its Lifestyle & Attitude Survey, Innova Market Insights found that health of the planet, not health of the population, is consumers’ top concern. Nearly two-thirds of the consumers in the worldwide survey agree or strongly agree that they would like one label that captures environmental impact, rather than multiple labels, and 55% of consumers globally say there are too many environmental labels. Concerns vary by region, with highest environmental concern in Latin America, and lowest levels of concern in North America. Food waste reduction tops the consumer actions to be more environmentally responsible. More.

Organic Community

Wolf & Associates Sponsors Organic Grower Summit
The fifth annual Organic Grower Summit, from the Organic Produce Network in partnership with Western Growers, is designed to provide information vital to organic growers and producers, as well as an overview of the opportunities and challenges in the production of organic fresh food. Wolf & Associates is proud to be one of the sponsors of this must-attend event for those in the produce sector.

Certification Opportunities At PCO
Pennsylvania Certified Organic seeks a Certification Director and Contract Organic Certification Inspectors. More.

Less Methane From Cows, More Clean Air For Us
Wolf & Associates’ client Blue Ocean Barns closed a $20 million Series A funding round, enabling the company to dramatically expand farming and commercial adoption of Brominata™, its seaweed-based digestive aid for cattle. The all-natural seaweed, which Blue Ocean Barns’ business model ensures is made available at no cost to farmers, has been shown in published research and on-farm trials to safely eliminate more than 80 percent of cows’ methane production without changing the taste of milk or meat.

Welcome, Orsi Dezsi, OMRI’s CEO
The Organic Materials Review Institute appointed Orsi Dezsi as its new Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer. Previously, Orsi served as Director of Product Certification in the Food Safety Division at NSF International, where she served nearly 20 years in progressively responsible roles.

Continuous Improvement Opportunities

Learn About Getting Certified
Wolf & Associates Senior Associate John Foster will talk about organic certification as part of a panel Friday September 30 at 8 a.m. at Natural Products Expo East in Philadelphia. He joins Johanna Phillips, Technical Director, Ecocert USA; Cynthia Barstow, Executive Director, UMass/Protect Our Breasts; Adrienne Messe, Integrated Events & Marketing Project Manager, Organic Trade Association; and Cassandra Christine, Director of Industry Relations, Organic Trade Association, in ‘Getting Certified in Organic.’

Build A Better Farm Business
Small and medium-scale farmers and ranchers with at least two years of business management experience can apply for a 10-week course that helps participants develop a vision for business resilience and a plan to get there. Highlights include business structure, labor, land tenure, accounting, taxation, credit, insurance, and regulatory compliance. The Farm Business Resilerator Course begins November 1. Seats are limited so apply now.

Iowa State University Offers Courses In Organic Animal Health
Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security and Public Health will offer veterinarians and other animal health professionals information about organic certification and organic livestock production as part of a free online course. ‘Overview of Organic and Alternative Livestock Production’ qualifies for continuing education credits and is open through November 30 to any veterinarian, animal health professional or student, or individual interested in organic and alternative livestock production. See: Overview of Organic and Alternative Animal Health.

W&A’s John Foster To Head Panel On Preparing For New Enforcement Initiatives
John Foster will moderate “Get Ahead of the Curve and Avoid Regulatory Speedbumps” at the Organic Grower Summit November 30-December 1 in Monterey, California. “Strengthening Organic Enforcement is the most significant organic regulatory change since regulations were implemented 20 years ago,” said Foster. “Mandatory changes are coming for the certification of brokers and traders for every imported organic product and for qualifications of inspectors and certification staff. This panel of industry leaders will provide operational and administrative details, showing attendees how to steer clear of bureaucratic potholes and ensure there are no disruptions to the supply chain.” Panelists for the session include Emily Musgrave, Driscoll’s organic program manager, Connie Karr, Oregon Tilth’s certification director, and Tom Chapman, Organic Trade Association’s CEO and Executive Director.