OTA defends integrity of organic rulemaking process

This summer, Organic Trade Association members banded together to defend the process by which organic regulations are created and implemented against an outside attack from Congress and the powerful livestock industry.

The National Organic Program (NOP) published its proposed rule on organic livestock and poultry practices in April 2016.  This was the result of 14 years of public and transparent rulemaking process—the very process that was set forth in the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). That process included two National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations, including a unanimous recommendation in 2011, as well as six NOSB meetings with full public comment and a preliminary economic analysis.

The proposed rule that came out of that process creates standards for organic products that consumers demand and that are necessary for organic to maintain its premium position in the marketplace. As all certified organic operations know, organic operations voluntarily participate in this program and agree to regulations that consumers demand.

There was an effort in the U.S. Senate appropriations process to prevent NOP from finalizing this rule—and that effort continued through the summer. If Congress had blocked NOP from following the transparent and congressionally mandated process to create and implement organic regulations set forth in OFPA, that would have called into question the entire process by which organic standards deliver transparent meaning to the consumer—a process that Congress created, the industry has worked within, and consumers trust.

OTA members and staff jumped into action. We included this as one of our topics during our annual Hill Visits and Policy Days, and educated Senate offices about the integrity of the organic rulemaking process. We explained to Senators and their staffs that hamstringing NOP from doing its job of writing, implementing, and enforcing organic rules would set a very dangerous precedent for organic.

We mobilized our membership, in coalition with other interested organizations (including the Humane Society of the United States) to make phone calls to their Senators, urging them to reject any attempts to impede NOP’s rulemaking.

We engaged in social media outreach to ensure organic consumers were able to weigh in with their support for the proposed rule.

We held a targeted fly-in, in which about a half a dozen OTA members with specific interest in the proposed rule on livestock and poultry practices came to Washington to spend a day on the Hill with their Senators, educating them on the danger of any efforts to stand in the way of the NOP rulemaking process.

There was a danger that an amendment would have been offered during either the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee consideration of the Agriculture Appropriations bill, or the full Appropriations Committee consideration of that bill. Thanks to the hard work and extraordinary efforts of our members, no such amendment was offered. This was a quiet victory, but a victory nonetheless. Had we not been pounding the pavement and ensuring the opposition to an amendment was engaged, the proponents may have been successful.

Despite the fact that the comment deadline for the proposed rule has passed, the work is not over.  We remain vigilant against any language impeding the implementation of the proposed rule during the remainder of the congressional funding process. Moreover, there was an unprecedented amount of weigh-in from organizations representing conventional agriculture in the comment period.

These comments represent a new approach by conventional agriculture, arguing that the organic regulations should not be strengthened, because that would make it more difficult for conventional farmers to enter the market and earn the organic premium. This is a dangerous new approach, and one we will need to guard against going forward. //