For years, OTA has focused its resources on influencing the national policy debate around organic agriculture priorities—things like ensuring the National Organic Program has the tools it needs to fully enforce the organic regulations, appropriating federal funds for organic-specific research, and developing a proposal for an organic research and promotion program. These debates take place in the context of the Farm Bill and appropriations.
But it is important for organic to have a seat at the table in the broader food policy debate—playing a role in conversations about issues that are not organic-specific, but that affect the organic community. Organic agriculture can offer unique solutions to broader food policy issues—and engaging in these conversations can facilitate coalition building with partners with whom we might not otherwise encounter.
Developing working relationships with stakeholders in the broader food and agriculture community is important, both in terms of wider food policy debates and in helping develop new allies in advance of the next Farm Bill and appropriations debates.
This summer, OTA is engaged in the debate around three broader food policy areas—dietary guidelines, pollinator policy, and child nutrition.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee this year had a mandate to consider sustainability as it drafted the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. OTA’s comments were among the more than 22,000 comments filed to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture—more comments than have ever been submitted on any prior Dietary Guidelines. Many of the comments were about the Committee’s recommendation that Americans cut back on red and processed meats.
OTA’s comments, which focused on the Committee’s consideration of sustainability, encouraged the Committee to incorporate a commitment to organic agriculture into future Guidelines. Organic agriculture can enhance sustainability, sound treatment of the environment, and the health of the American public. The data continue to show the role that organic production practices play in ultimate nutritional outcomes, so a commitment to organic is a commitment to the nutrition of American eaters.
Seventy-five percent of all crops grown for human consumption rely on pollinators, predominantly bees, for a successful harvest. Over the past decade, both native and honeybee populations have been declining at alarming rates, raising concerns about the impact on our global food security. Since 2006, U.S. honeybee keepers have reported they lose 30 percent of their hives on average each winter.
Factors likely involved in declining pollinator populations include exposure to toxic agricultural pesticides, decrease in pollinator forage due to extensive mono-cropping and dramatic increase in non-selective use of herbicides, and destruction of native habitat through the conversion of land for anthropogenic use.
Earlier this summer, the White House released a National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. Although intended to be a comprehensive approach to reducing the impact of stressors on pollinator health, it only minimally addressed the impact of agricultural production methods on pollinators.
OTA has released its own position on pollinator policy. There, OTA urges the Administration to more fully address the impact of agricultural production methods, including organic practices, on pollinators, and dedicate research to these practices. Organic farming standards require a number of practices that are beneficial to pollinators—such as the prohibition of the use of synthetic pesticides, and a requirement of farm management that fosters biodiversity and improves natural resources.
OTA has engaged in the conversation by specifically calling on:
- USDA to ensure the National Organic Program has the resources needed to move forward on an organic apiculture standard
- USDA to investigate the best and most successful models—including diversified organic systems and practices—for pollinator habitat protection
- USDA to expand programs—conservation or others—through which producers can get assistance in establishing appropriate pollinator habitat
- USDA and EPA to recommit to identifying alternatives to neonicotinoid pesticide use and leveraging organic systems to reach that goal
- USDA to rely on existing research and engage in new research to assist farmers in organic conversion to benefit pollinators
- The White House to amend its National Strategy to include agricultural production methods as a valuable solution to pollinator problems and recognize organic farming practices as particularly beneficial.
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized an organic food pilot program under which school food authorities could explore opportunities to build relationships with local organic companies, farms and food providers to provide healthy and nutritious organic foods to our students, without driving up costs. The pilot program would model best practices in bringing fresh, nutritious, affordable organic foods to our schoolchildren within the confines of the existing school food cost structure.
The pilot program was authorized at $10 million per year, but was never funded. During OTA’s Policy Conference this year, OTA members lobbied Members of Congress to fund the program, so best practices could be identified and an opportunity could be created to allow all of our kids to have access to healthy, nutritious, organic lunches.
When funded, this competitive grant program would develop and provide support services to initiatives increasing access to organic foods in eligible schools; help schools scale or further develop existing initiatives that increase access to organic foods; help schools that are just getting started on bringing organic to their schoolchildren and structure their efforts for maximum impact by embedding best practices into early design consideration; or provide technical assistance in the area of procurement, food safety, or other relevant areas.
While OTA will, of course, continue to prioritize organic-specific policy goals in our advocacy work, we are also committing our resources to participate in the broader food policy debate. By engaging on issues such as dietary guidelines, pollinator preservation, and child nutrition, we have the opportunity to offer organic solutions to these issues, and build coalitions with stakeholders in the broader agriculture community.
This will serve American consumers, as well as position the organic community as a relevant thought-leader in broader food policy issues. //