As a result of Congress’ failure to promptly pass a Continuing Resolution, the National Organic Program was forced to furlough all staff and shut down its website and all email communications during the much-publicized government shutdown. Additionally The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting, scheduled for October 22-24 was canceled leaving a robust agenda and many current issues adrift in ambiguity. Leading me to ask, where do we take the situation from here?
I think it’s important to go back to the roots of our movement and remember that many groups played a role during the 1990’s to coalesce and develop the national organic standards. Groups such as The Organic Trade Association (OTA), CCOF, Oregon Tilth, IFOAM and OMRI all contributed to the integrity of the final standards. This process of the organic community coming together and discussing the standards has been going on for a long time. We should celebrate the fact that 99% of the standards have full international and domestic agreement.
The transparency of the organic process is robust from the material review, comment periods, public meetings and regulatory creation. No other food system has this kind of transparency, and we should celebrate this fact as a unique benefit of the organic standards. You will not find this in any other food system! Inherently this transparence allows for much dialogue and debate, which eventually leads to consensus around the issues and a more robust and vigorous program.
With this transparency, there is an inherent tendency for politics and controversy to prevail, which leads to a lack of consensus on some issues. Sometimes the organic media chooses to focus on our few areas of disagreement. When inflammatory headlines arise it can cause great consumer doubt and concern around the entire organic sector. (I stand guilty of using this very tactic on occasion in my blog posts.) I have learned that consumers don’t react well to outbursts of controversy and just don’t know what to make of all the passionate dialogue.
During the time we have off before the next NOSB meeting in April, perhaps we can take an opportunity to further discuss some of the issues. Let’s work together with the National Organic Program (NOP), so when we are in attendance next spring we have a starting point of understanding. Issues have many sides and those who are passionate about their beliefs have the right to be heard. I think debates are healthy and there should be spirited discussions within the organic community on controversial topics. Let’s discover together how it can be done in a productive way.
We have so much agreement on the value of organics. We agree on the basic concept of what the standards are. Many amazing people have been involved to get us where we are today and it’s been hard work building this incredible industry. Let’s not lose sight of our common ground while we debate our differences. Whether big or small, farmer or distributor, we are all in this together and, quite frankly, need each other. Let’s communicate our wins to the consumers while debating our future as a community.