The National Organic Coalition (NOC) hosted their annual fly-in for Hill Day in mid-June. The three-day fly-in schedule included an Organic Farmer Alliance planning meeting and policy coaching before legislative meetings. Nearly 40 NOC delegates from around the country met with their legislators.
Steve Etka, NOC Legislative Coordinator and Abby Youngblood, NOC Executive Director led a thorough policy briefing and orientation session. Delegates felt well prepared for their Hill Day meetings with their Senators, Representatives and/or legislative staff.
On behalf of organic producers and consumers, NOC delegates shared concerns with Anne Alonzo, Administrator of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA AMS).
Consumer demand for organic far outpacing domestic production
In the past 5 years, U.S. organic sales have grown about 10-percent annually and our organic farms have not been able to keep up with demand. Domestic production has grown at about 2.5 percent annually. Research and incentives could help spur domestic organic production and address organic production constraints domestically. Lessons learned through organic research would benefit all growers, those using organic, sustainable or conventional methods.
USDA organic research funding has remained steady while conventional agriculture research has grown significantly. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) has grown by 20 percent over the last 5 years and is slated for more growth. Less than 0.1 percent of AFRI funds go towards organic research. About 12 percent of U.S. fruit and vegetable sales are organic products and only 2 percent of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) went to organic research from 2010 — 2014.
Farmers need greater access to seeds that are locally adapted to their farming systems and changing climate conditions. Additional Seeds and Breeds funding is needed for locally adapted plant and animal breeding.
GMO contamination impeding organic farmers
NOC urged the USDA to strengthen its oversight and transparency for Genetically Engineered (GE) field trials to prevent contamination of adjacent fields. GE patent owners and growers should share the responsibility of preventing contamination events. Currently, organic farmers bear almost full responsibility to prevent GE contamination of their crops from neighboring fields. Their prevention costs include creating buffer zones with crops that cannot be sold as premium organic crops, delaying planting to prevent potential cross-pollination and paying for crop testing to verify crop integrity
Organic growers currently bear the full cost upon crop contamination. When contamination occurs, organic farmers can be turned away from their organic marketplace and lose their premium prices.
Marketplace confusion between “Organic” and “Natural”
National polls show that consumers are confused about the difference between foods labeled “organic” and foods labeled “natural”. Organic has strict third-party verification and there are extensive standards around the use of “Organic.” NOC urged the USDA to defend its Certified Organic label and standards. “Natural” has essentially no standards and means something different to each consumer or producer.
Organic aquaculture standards should be consistent with strict standards of Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA)
NOC urged the National Organic Program (NOP) to issue standards for organic aquaculture regulations requiring fish production practices to meet the same OFPA requirements of 100-percent organic feed as required by other animal and livestock operations. Open net pen fish farming in the ocean should not be allowed because of the risk to wild fish populations from waste, disease and escape with potential crossbreeding.
OFPA requires respect for the natural behavior of animals. Salmon or other migratory fish should not be contained in net pens. OFPA organic standards can be met for inland, closed-loop, recirculating (non-migratory) fish production. This creates job and business opportunities in rural and urban settings.
Nanotechnology should be prohibited in organic standards
Nanotechnology involves deliberate engineering of materials, structures and systems at the molecular and atomic level. Nano materials can cross biological membranes, cell tissues and organs more readily than larger particles. Once in the blood stream, nano materials can circulate throughout the entire body, lodge in organs and tissues and may interfere with normal cellular function causing oxidative damage or even cell death. NOC urged the USDA to prohibit nano materials in packaging to prevent possible contamination of organic produce or products.
Public input in the NOP policy-making process is essential for organic integrity
The “Organic” label is valued for its transparency, public participation, health and environmental services. As new technologies evolve, it is vital to keep the public engaged. USDA must ensure opportunities for stakeholders and consumers to provide input prior to releasing or implementing new NOP policy memos, guidance documents and/or proposed rules. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) can provide a public forum for input. An open NOSB docket could allow for continuous dialogue during and between NOSB meetings.
After sharing their concerns with Alonzo, delegates gathered to celebrate and roast Liana Hoodes, former NOC Executive Director.