Laura Batcha, Executive Director and CEO of the Organic Trade Association, recently represented industry as part of an invited five-person panel on organic hosted by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research. Other panel participants represented the federal government, the research community, and the production side of organic.
Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) this spring introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2017, which would invest in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) to meet the needs of the growing organic sector. Sales of organic products in the U.S. reached approximately $47 billion in 2016, and expectations are for continued growth as more consumers choose organic.
In late 2016, more than 500 organic operations, from organic fruit and vegetable growers, grains and oilseed farmers, livestock and poultry producers, dairy farmers, organic processors, and food makers across 45 states, participated in a comprehensive farm bill survey conducted by the Organic Trade Association (OTA).
Organic food and farming have many health benefits for consumers—they have lower levels and frequencies of pesticide residues, and can have higher levels of antioxidants and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. However, another less well-known health benefit centers on the welfare of farmworkers and families in agricultural areas.
I read with interest the May Washington Post article about shipments of corn and soybeans from Turkey that arrived in the United States labeled organic, but that clearly were not. The article raised important issues about organic supply chains and certification documents, but it raised a more fundamental issue as well: when there is an opportunity for added value in a supply chain, how can we make sure farmers, and not unscrupulous middlemen, reap these rewards?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been advocating for organic food and farming for more than two decades. I have worked alongside many pioneers and have seen organic farming grow from a fledgling movement available to few, into a $40 billion a year industry. Despite years of double-digit growth, the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. is struggling to keep pace with soaring consumer demand.
My family’s egg business was saved by going organic. We were rescued again when we joined forces with the Organic Trade Association to fight a regulation that threatened the continuation of our operation. Now the organic sector has a chance to band together for a common cause that could benefit the entire organic industry and better all of our futures.
Thirty years ago when I started in the organic produce industry, it was called a trade—a cottage industry whose participants had no inkling of what it would become today. There was no formal way to cool and ship product, no salad mix, and a handful of apple varieties. We spent hours on the phone trying to get a purchase order and celebrated when we did. We waged an uphill battle to establish credibility in a market that asked for quick and easy and didn't want to know where food came from. We were determined to overcome the obstacles of logistics and naysayers.
After many years of dialog, there is a proposed research and promotion check-off program designed just for ORGANIC. All that’s needed now is YOUR comment to USDA supporting this game-changing initiative.