Organic Policy and Regulations, What is Organic

OTA Facilitates Discussion on an Organic Research and Promotion Program

Capitol HillIn 2012, the size of the U.S. organic sector reached 35 billion dollars a year, with an estimated 10% growth rate. According to OTA’s 2013 Organic Industry Survey, the industry has grown from 9 billion dollars a year in 2002 when the USDA National Organic Program was established. (Farm-gate sales of organic crops reached 3.53 billion dollars in 2011 from 3.6 million certified acres (according to USDA’s NASS 2011 Certified Organic Production Survey). Eighty-one percent of U.S. families now report buying some organic products at least occasionally (according to OTA’s 2013 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study). While the sector has experienced healthy growth, a number of critical factors create the need for investment in public education and promotion as well as research.

Although the industry as a whole has continued to grow, in the last three years there has been a decrease in the number of certified organic acres in the United States. Closing the gap between demand for organic products and U.S. organic production is a top objective in which research plays a critical role. Organic agricultural innovation, tools and alternative inputs are necessary to reverse this trend.

While 81% of families report purchasing organic products at least occasionally in 2013, one-third of organic consumers are new to the market—having purchased organic for less than two years. This market dynamic creates an ongoing educational burden for the sector to reach new families with education about the organic seal, production practices and benefits. Consumer research indicates a high level of confusion among consumers regarding verifiable organic claims and unregulated ‘natural’ and other eco-claims in the market place. Long-term success of the organic sector requires a consistent investment in research and education, and promotion of certified organic that does not exist today.

Essentially, organic is a regulated production system and marketing claim housed at USDA. While USDA supports regulation and oversight of claims, the USDA Organic seal is a common brand shared by over 17,000 organic operations in 50 states without dedicated marketing, research and development funding.

It is from this recognition that the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has facilitated a preliminary conversation in the organic sector to determine if there is a fair and equitable way to pool funds for the purpose of organic research and promotion.

The process of exploring a research and promotion order is still in its early stages. As the options for a framework are evaluated, IF a consensus framework emerges, an informal poll of industry support will be conducted prior to submitting an application to USDA for the establishment of a USDA Certified Organic Research and Promotion Board. Once submitted to USDA, the process involves a formal public comment period followed by an industry vote (referendum) with 2/3 support required to establish an order. USDA indicates the process takes up to two years to complete.

Certified operations are encouraged to review in detail and weigh-in with detailed feedback and preference on the following pages. Feedback will also be collected online in the upcoming months.

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