Board members share issues that excite—and concern—them

Organic Report posed two questions to the Organic Trade Association Board of Directors.

1. What is something that the Organic Trade Association is working on that you are excited about?
2, What’s happening in organic right now that keeps you up at night?

Kim Dietz, The J.M. Smucker Company
Board President

  I’m really excited about the progress and possibility of having an organic check-off program. This project started over five years ago. After stakeholder input and work by a dedicated steering committee, we submitted an application to USDA. I am anxiously awaiting the next step of a published final rule and referendum vote. I believe this will be a game changer for the organic community.

  The recent actions the Organic Trade Association has to take to defend organic. The mere fact that we have had to file a lawsuit against the USDA is what weighs heaviest on my mind.  Yet it is an action that needed to be taken because we must have strong standards to protect the organic seal and we must have a trusted process for establishing organic standards.

Melissa Hughes, Organic Valley
Board Vice President—USA

  I’m excited about the lawsuit against the USDA to implement the Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices final rule. This was a bold move by the Organic Trade Association to change the game with the USDA, and begin a new march towards a rigorous rule and standard.

  The failure of the industry to invest in the brand that it relies on. Organic is attacked from inside and out, and we have made the choice not to invest in organic and telling the consumer about organic. Conventional agriculture is devastating the environment and our health with pesticides and herbicides. We are doing a disservice to the world by not advocating stronger for organic.

Ryan Benn, Alive Publishing Group Inc.
Board Vice President—Canada

  I believe in the big picture of organic. For a future where organic is accepted as the only solution for both sustainable agriculture, and for the most nutritious products. The Organic Trade Association is the voice to make this future a reality.

  I am worried that conventional agriculture and the respective interests of this industry are slowing down the rapid adoption of organic. Our planet needs organic. All of us need organic. Can it happen fast enough?

Marci Zaroff, Under the Canopy/MetaWear
Board Secretary

  I am excited that the Organic Trade Association is driving more science and research about the importance of organic agriculture and products through The Organic Center.

  What worries me are the many unknowns of the current Administration and realizing how vital that their continued support is, particularly in relation to transitioning farmers into organic agricultural practices and protecting the integrity of “organic” through the National Organic Program and hopefully the Federal Trade Commission (for non-food organic products.) We have been making good progress in recent years, and any pause in this support could compromise our efforts.

Rick Collins, Clif Bar and Company
Board Treasurer

  I am very excited about the opportunities for organic in the upcoming Farm Bill. The Organic Trade Association has done a great job of finding sponsors for marker bills to significantly increase funding for organic research and organic integrity.

  The circular firing squad we at times see in the organic industry. We need to unite and focus on the goal of expanding organic acreage, while protecting the integrity of the standard and maintain our sector’s commitment to continued improvement

Perry Clutts, Pleasantview Farm

  Supply chain integrity is something I’m excited about and also keeps me up at night!

  Organic needs to ensure for consumers that all crops in the supply chain are compliant. It is very exciting the Organic Trade Association is being proactive: taking anti-fraud measures connecting with grain importers, implementing a task force and having a marker bill introduced. 

Doug Crabtree, Vilicus Farm

  I am very excited and hopeful about the organic check-off proposal. I see it as a true game changing opportunity to provide reliable funding for organic agronomic research, dissemination to farmers and consumer education.

  I am concerned about the growing prevalence of unavoidable low-level contamination of organic crops by chemicals in the environment. We now have detectable levels of Round Up in our rainwater... and thus in our crops! Also, the growing divisions in the organic community, particularly between farmers and food manufacturers. Increasingly we feel more like business adversaries than partners in a movement.

Bob Kaake, Annie’s Inc.

  I am most excited about all the great scientific work the Organic Trade Association is working on through The Organic Center. Of particular interest is the recent study that The Organic Center conducted with Northeastern University that shows soil from organic farms sequesters more carbon than conventional farms. I enjoy hearing about breakthrough science supporting organic by reading the OTA and The Organic Center newsletters.

  As an organic consumer, I am most concerned about fraud in the marketplace and, in particular, foreign imports. I am thankful that the Organic Trade Association is taking a lead role working with both industry and USDA to find ways to strengthen our procedures to ensure that any product labeled with the organic seal was grown and produced with the full integrity of the organic standards.

David Lively, Organically Grown Company

  I am very happy that we have decided to stand firm in defense of the work the trade has done to improve the livestock standards.

  One is the impact that the mainstreaming of organic may have upon so many of the visionaries who created the organic trade. From where I sit, the conventional players coming the table appear to have a limited appreciation of the work that has been done or those who have done the work. I have been concerned for many years with the possibility that organic will become nothing more than a label that indicates compliance, with far too little vision for embracing more holistic systems behind it. Second is the apparent willingness of some organizations to insist on such a “pure” standard that organic agriculture is too limited in its ability to evolve, and we lose acreage and growers back to conventional agricultural practice.

Britt Lundgren, Stonyfield Farm

  I am excited about the Organic Trade Association’s work with the Organic Grain Collaborative to identify barriers to the growth of domestic organic grain production, and to develop recommendations for actions that companies, farmers, and advocacy groups can take to overcome those barriers. As the organic sector in the U.S. continues to grow, we need to make sure we are exploring every opportunity for domestic farmers to be a part of this market.

  I worry about how the current Administration is not advancing the rulemaking we need to keep the organic standard strong. For example, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule makes some important improvements to the animal welfare requirements in the organic standard, but USDA has just moved to delay its implementation again. As a sector, we all know we need strong rules to maintain consumer trust in the organic label. I am proud that OTA is fighting for what is right by taking USDA to court on this issue.

Michael Menes, True Organic Products

  What I am most excited about now is how the Organic Trade Association is aggressively developing a best practices guide for addressing organic integrity on an international scale. This effort has contributions from all sides of the organic industry, as it should be, since each segment could be a point of failure. I am excited that there is action and the needle is moving.

  What keeps me up at night is the future—not just mine personally but also the future of the organic industry. What will it look like for generations after me? There is a select group of people—namely the National Organic Program—who are doing something about it. How do we as an industry support these champions? How do we as an industry protect the organic seal? Ideally it takes time and effort but more specifically, it is time and effort invested in the Farm Bill, Organic Livestock & Poultry Practices, organic integrity, transitional organic, and the check-off program—all things that help fulfill our mission of protecting the organic seal and ultimately securing our future, now and for generations.

James Sculthorpe, Yorkshire Valley Farms

  As someone participating in the organic livestock sector, specifically poultry, I am often asked by retailers and consumers why our products are not “Certified Humane” or “Verified Non-GMO.” I explain to them that organic is all these things and more! These are among the issues that the Organic Trade Association is working on to make sure that organic is also recognized for these attributes.

  Fraud. If sufficient checks and balances, as well as penalties, are not in place to maintain the integrity of the organic sector, we will lose consumer trust and the sector's economic sustainability.

Kelly Shea, DanoneWave

  I am very excited to see some of the fine research coming out of The Organic Center, also to see the growth in organic fiber, and to see how the Organic Trade Association has stepped up to the plate to protect organic integrity and the reputation of the USDA Organic seal.

  There are so many ‘single attribute’ labels today competing with organic. We have to be able to explain clearly to shoppers what the organic seal encompasses.

Mark Squire, Good Earth Natural Food

  I am very enthusiastic about the work we are doing in D.C. With the Farm Bill in process, it seems critical to be in that conversation. Organic offers so many solutions, and I think that message is finally getting through to legislators.

  I worry a lot about protecting organic products from GMOs, especially the barrage of new food additives made with synthetic biological forms of bacteria, yeast and algae that present new challenges of verification to our industry.

Leslie Zuck, Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO)

  PCO recently joined the Organic Trade Association’s Farmers Advisory Council and we have found it to be an interesting and well-organized conduit for organic farmers’ voices to be heard and magnified from around the country. As a farmer, I personally appreciate the opportunity that the council provides for the real people who are producing our organic food and fiber to inform and influence the trade association’s work on all levels.

  As the organic sector grows in leaps and bounds, certifiers are on the forefront of ensuring organic integrity in the marketplace. This is something PCO deals with every single day as our amazing staff and inspectors work with the ever-growing numbers of organic producers, processors, handlers, importers and distributors to verify compliance with organic standards. Consumer confidence in the organic label is in our hands, and we take that responsibility very seriously.

DYK: The Organic Trade Association structure utilizes the Board as strategic advisors and long-term thinkers,the staff as program planners and implementers, and the members as lenders of knowledge and expertise. 

DYK: Organic Trade Association members are welcome to attend and observe in-person Board meetings, with the exception of any Executive Session.

Upcoming meetings include

May 25 in Washington, D.C.
September 12 in Baltimore, MD.