Asks USDA for revenue source that would include funds from processors.

Organic Trade Assn. Petitions for Checkoff Program

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

May 13, 2015

As we reported months ago, ("Organic Category Proposes a Checkoff") the Organic Trade Assn. (OTA) on May 12 formally petitioned USDA to begin steps to conduct a vote on and implement a research and promotion check-off program for the organic industry.

The proposal would charge all organic "certificate holders" throughout the supply chain: producers, processors, handlers, brand manufacturers, co-packers and importers. That means even food processors, such as General Mills, WhiteWave (Horizon Organic) and Campbell Soup, would be required to chip in.

It's estimated the organic check-off, referred to as GRO Organic (Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic), could raise more than $30 million a year to advance the organic sector. "Rooted in a strong focus on research to make farmers successful and technical services to accelerate the adoption of organic practices, the proposed program is designed to address organic's most pressing needs," the association said.

OTA's action, in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, follows three years of dialogue with the entire organic sector and comes 25 years after Congress authorized USDA's National Organic Program. "Marking the first time in the 49-year history of U.S. agricultural check-off programs that organic could be recognized as a distinct commodity class based on production practices, it could have significant and game-changing ramifications for the burgeoning organic sector," said OTA.

"The organic industry in America is thriving and maturing, but it is at a critical juncture," said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA. "Many consumers remain unaware of what that organic seal really means. Organic production in this country is not keeping pace with the robust demand. An organic check-off program would give organic stakeholders the opportunity to collectively invest in research, build domestic supply and communicate the value of the organic brand to advance the entire industry to a new level."

More than 5,000 organic farms and businesses responded to OTA's surveys, weighing in support of establishing a dedicated organic check-off by a margin of 2 to 1, with little or no difference in the amount of support between the size and types of operations.

At least 25 percent of funds would be earmarked for research, including regional priorities. All of the research, inventions and innovations resulting from organic check-off programming would remain in the public domain.

"More farmers in America need to go organic," said Perry Clutts, organic dairy farmer from Ohio, in a statement provided by OTA. "Our country, the biggest agricultural producer in the world, is having to import organic food to feed America's growing appetite."

After USDA completes its review of the application, an official proposal for an organic research and promotion check-off program will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period. The final step will be a referendum on the proposed check-off, with all certified organic stakeholders eligible to vote. Approval by a majority of the organic stakeholders voting is required for implementation.

A summary of the proposal and a copy of the full application can be found on the GROorganic.net site.

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