This not so much a factual account of my week in DC but rather a philosophical musing of the state of organic today.
I knew full well the political atmosphere in DC when I arrived—it is muddled with shear turbulence. So too the organic industry is experiencing a bumpy trajectory even as it streams ahead with over 6% growth.
Organic has been under a barrage of political threats and media scandals that just don’t seem to stop.
The demise of the Animal Welfare Rule, the dismissal of the Organic Check-Off and threats to the National Organic Standards Board seem to signify real hostility to the fastest growing sector of the grocery aisles.
Despite all the headwinds, the organic industry mustered a big presence in DC last week at the OTA’s Organic Week.
Organic friends and family make the annual pilgrimage to attend the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) flagship policy week. Each year it gets bigger and bolder. Many of us have been around since 1990 when the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) was signed into law. Then we celebrated organic sales of $1 billion. Today we have over 24,000 certified organic businesses fueling an almost $50-billion market.
What about the Organic Check-off?
To keep the momentum going, we need more domestic farmers. Research and technical assistance for US organic farmers is tantamount to our continued growth. The check-off would have provided funds for these kinds of programs along with bolstering consumer education.
Yes, there is disappointment around its political demise by the Trump USDA, but the organic industry is strong and thriving. The need for farmers and ranchers still exists.
Laura Batch, CEO of the OTA, indicated that “We’ll be exploring whether there is feasibility of moving forward on the private side. There are voluntary check-off programs that exist outside of USDA.”
Gary Hirshberg, co-founder of Stonyfield Farm, is taking matters into his own hands. He has raised $1 million per year over the next two years for Organic Voices. The thirty companies funding this campaign aim to address consumer confusion through education and promotion.
What Animal Welfare Rule?
The OTA lawsuit against the USDA’s dismissal of the Animal Welfare ruleis still being fought in the courts. The crux of the matter hinges on the fact that the Administration didn’t execute a lawful withdrawal—there was no public comment period which is required when a published rule is withdrawn.
As the matter moves forward, OTA will continue to fight for due process for the organic rule.
Organic fraud threatens to erode consumer confidence.
To combat this, OTA announced a groundbreaking pilot projectby the organic industry to prevent and detect fraud in the global organic system.
This three-month pilot project was initiated by the Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity (GOSCI) Task Force. They developed a fraud prevention program designed specifically for the organic industry that companies will be able to voluntarily enroll in.
As the first step toward this program, a “best practices” guide was created by the task force to facilitate the industry-wide implementation of systems and measures to preserve the integrity of organic.
How Can Congress Help?
Organic advocates stormed Capitol Hill on Wednesday where over 150 individuals from 38 states held 160 meetings with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle. They went to the White House and met with four agencies inside the Trump Administration.
Their message resounded: “Organic is good for the US economy. It provides, jobs, rural development, high-term incomes and more domestic production!”
It also deserves equitable research dollars in the Farm Bill and a strong National Organic Program with more enforcement capabilities. Language that seeks to limit and weaken the role of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) must be defeated.
I have to ask myself why the support isn’t there for an industry that is growing so much faster than any other sector of the food industry. Why do some Congressional leaders cast a lukewarm gaze when organic advocates are in their office? Certainly, their families demand organic milk.
Perhaps it’s a tale not of constituent prosperity, but who funds their reelection efforts. What Political Action Campaigns (PAC) exist with conventional Ag at the helm?
Get Ready for the Future of Organic
On the last day, we learned more about Blockchain and how it secures data in a way that could transform our world. Jessi Baker, CEO of Provenance,is on a mission to make supply chains more transparent. Blockchain is a thumbprint of information that is super secure and immutable when overplayed with a trust factor—like organic.
Think of it like this—the internet has allowed us to trust—we ride with strangers and stay in their apartments. Imagine a system that creates trust across separate supply chain networks.
This technology will potentially transform and disrupt banks, government and all centralized authorities–including supply chains.
Get ready; the future is coming! And I believe organic will be at the forefront of this disruption.
Disappointment and defeat can lead to apathy or action. The organic industry has always been filled with vitality and ingenuity, and I don’t see this dimming any time soon.