I attended Expo West in early March and was astounded by the activity, creativity and energy the show offered this year. Not only were there over 67,000 eager attendees and 2,600 festive booths, but the educational sessions were packed with information and thought leadership. It lead me to reflect on how far we have come as an industry and how far we have yet to go in redefining the food landscape in the US.
Even before the show floor opened, there was a palpable buzz of expectation. Even the most stoic attendees had goose bumps. Michael Franti played a “rise and shine concert” on a stage outside while participants practiced yoga to the music. I could tell these lithe yoga practitioners eat only the finest organic and natural foods! The people who arrived early to set up the booths had a brisk expectant walk as they made their way to the show floor, their arms full of abundant supplies and creative plans dancing in their heads.
Industry thought leaders had also come early to discuss various strategic plans and visions. Topics that seemed central to the show were GMO labeling, Non GMO certification and protection of the organic label. The lay of the land on GMO labeling is changing swiftly in the aftermath of defeats in California and Washington State. A multitude of GMO state initiatives are springing forth with vitality unseen before. From Oregon to Colorado and New York, the energy and awareness cannot be ignored. How do we coordinate the message in each state? How in the world do we fund them all? What about the proposed federal bills that want to make state initiatives illegal? How do we get more congressional leaders to sign onto the Boxer/ DeFazio bill requiring mandatory federal labeling? Well, there certainly is a lot of work to be done this year and the ideas on how to accomplish our industry’s goals flowed in abundance.
Non-GMO labels are growing at expeditious rates, which represent a huge step in eliminating GMOs from our food chain. Supplies of non-GMO ingredients aren’t keeping up with demand because the growers, seeds and infrastructure just aren’t there yet. Reversing the GMO trend is going to take years.
The conversation turned to protecting the organic label and furthering education on the benefits of organic. Most folks don’t realize that organic means non-GMO and a whole lot more! We all agreed that the organic seal is the gold standard of protection and integrity and that story needs to be told. How do we best tell the story? Who is going to step up to pay that bill? Check out the hilarious Organic Voices Video telling the story.
One idea presented Friday was an Organic Research and Promotion Program that could potentially raise money for education, promotion and research to help the organic community. The possibility for this exciting program was made available by language in the Farm Bill. I sat on the panel that discussed the ideas and presented different frameworks on how the program could potentially work. We directed participants to UNITED FOR ORE ORGANIC to learn more and weigh in.
The next day, the USDA’s Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program, Miles McEvoy, and Anne Alonzo, Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service, held a listening session on the accomplishments and wins organic had in the farm bill. It turns out organic was a HUGE winner in the 2014 Agriculture Act and much of this success is due to the hard work and diligence of the OTA staff. They outlined new developments at USDA that serve organic agriculture and posted a reminder that the National organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet at the end of April. The agenda is available for deliberation and comments. As always, the public is invited to attend and weigh in.
The Organic Center’s annual dinner was a huge culinary success Friday night, as participants networked and savored delectable organic cuisine. The esteemed scientist Chuck Benbrook was honored for his continued work promoting the organic way through research and education. We all left satiated and full of hope for the future of organic knowing people like Chuck were on our team.
That is just a brief synopsis of what I heard and learned at Expo West this year. Each of these experiences is worthy of its own blog post so look for more details in the weeks to come. My biggest take-away from the show was that the opportunity to engage with industry peers and be part of the discussion is huge. As much as commerce, writing orders and making contracts defines the show, so also does thought leadership and education. I will be sure to attend more sessions next fall at Expo East and hope to see many of you there. Until then, let’s keep talking!
Check out this video that Caroline Brooke and her sister made on Expo West. They are trying to spread the word about eating organics and staying healthy.