A majority of the organic industry sought a federal certification
program as part of the 1990 farm bill for a host of reasons that are as
logical today as they were then. Many small and mid-size growers like Sal
wanted protection for their market premium from larger scale conventional
growers, some of whom had started to convert large acreages to organic
systems with relatively little effort.
The whole industry was concerned a few "bad apples" would tarnish
the image of all organic farmers, and hoped a certification program would:
(1) weed them out, (2) provide cover for legitimate growers if some scandal
erupted, eroding consumer confidence, (3) give established customers a
reason to stick with known, certified growers.
Much of the industry needed certification to gain access to
high-profit European markets, where the market is much more demanding in
terms of credible documentation that "greener" food is indeed greener.
Ditto, other high value markets over seas.
The processed industry needed reciprocity across certifiers so
ingredients for fruit cocktail, purchased for example from six different
states certified by six different entities, could be processed by a seventh
entity, without having to do the farm level work all over again. There had
to be some way to "level the playing field" by establishing minimum
standards for certifiers to follow. The purpose of accreditation is to
document that certifiers are doing a good job in applying the standards.
Together, these formed the foundation for reciprocity.
Sal, don't jump all over me. I am not saying that all money/effort
made in the name of certification has been fair or well-invested. I agree
it would be much more fair to tax pesticides to pay for organic
certification, but that is not going to happen for reasons that have little
to do with what is "right". I am saying there were and remain legitimate
goals shared by most of the organic industry that gave rise to the
collective sense a national program was needed. Much of the concern across
the industry is the result of a long-delayed, very inefficient process for
getting the proposed rule published. If there were no organic program in
USDA and state departments of agriculture, we would no doubt be debating a
different set of problems undermining the viability of small and mid-size
organic producers, the solution of which would, you guessed it, require some
sort of national program, if not an international alliance and institution.
There is going to be an organic accreditation and certification
program in the U.S. The industry and organic farmers need to fix the
problems that arise, such as needless duplicative paperwork, excessive fees,
and an unfair split between the private and public sectors. Solutions will
come easier if different constituencies work together to cooperatively seek
compromises and solutions (i.e., it is much more likely USDA will adopt
concensus suggestions/revisions in the rule in contrast to divisive ones).
The organic industry, along with allies in the consumer and
environmental community, need to make a stronger, more effective case for
public (USDA) investment in the infrastructure supporting the organic
industry. People and organizations have shied away from this because of the
state of the budget, trends in politics and other reasons. In the meantime,
other emerging industries have received billions in new dollars because,
somehow, they made the case. Of course, an important time to make this case
is in responding to the regs.
Last, the whole arena of food labeling is just exploding in terms of
importance and energy. The biggest issues today surround labeling of
biotech foods, and this has already spilled over and onto (pardon the pun)
the organic program regs. The biotech section of the rule will get more
comments than any other, I predict. For information on IPM labeling, see
the "IPM and the Marketplace" section of the PMAC webpage, www.pmac.net.
Consumers all over the world are asking for and responding to more
information about their food -- what is in it, nutritional properties, how
it was grown, the impacts of production practices on the environment.
Organic labeling and certification is advanced relative to other areas of
labeling policy, but it may soon find itself struggling to catch up.
Sal raised questions about what words farmers could use to describe
their production -- natural, environmentally friendly, biological, etc.
This is another key area where things are heating up and dynamic. I do not
think the USDA/FTC are as aggressive as some allege; there is a ton of
greenwashing going on in the food, chemical and produce industries, by
proponents of "plant pesticides", and others trying to position themselves
in the market. Just a few weeks ago, the Idaho Potato Commission announced
the new banner/theme of its multi-million dollar consumer ad campaign for
this year, prominently featuring the phrase "Nature's Friend." What do you
suppose that means? Ask your grocer when you see this phrase on
bags/cartons. What do you think the Commission can produce in terms of
factual data to back up that claim? I suspect some groups will be asking.
Anyone compared pesticide use on potatoes in Idaho to other states lately?
Its a simple and reveling exercise.
I would appreciate people posting from time to time, or e-mailing to
me, new claims on food labels, point of purchase information, or in
advertising that need to be assessed by the consumer and environmental
community. I am involved with some projects doing just that, your help in
identifying important examples would be appreciated.
Note New New Address!!:
Charles Benbrook 208-263-5236 (voice)
Benbrook Consulting Services 208-263-7342 (fax)
5085 Upper Pack River Road email@example.com [e-mail]
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 http://www.pmac.net