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Organic Trade Association asks Congress to take action to keep organic standards strong - Organic Trade Association
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Organic Trade Association asks Congress to take action to keep organic standards strong

 

News Release
Contact: Holly Givens, 413-774-7511, ext. 18

GREENFIELD, Mass. (Oct. 24, 2005) - Today the Organic Trade Association (OTA) submitted to Congress a letter signed by over two hundred companies, farmers and trade associations supporting its request that Congress restore the National Organic Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This request follows a court ruling that undermined over 12 years of effort by organic growers, consumers, manufacturers, Congress, and the USDA to build a vibrant, growing organic marketplace.

 

"We believe that the current standards, which represent the result of a unique partnership between the government and the public and private sectors, need to remain intact in order to minimize disruption and marketplace confusion and to protect the growing marketplace for organic farmers," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of OTA.

 

A June 2005 court ruling found a few technical inconsistencies between the 1990 organic law and the final standards implemented by the USDA in 2002 after an extensive process of public discussion and input. In order to allow Congress time to clarify the 1990 law, the court did not immediately implement its ruling.  "The court identified the problem and set the timeline, and Congress is responding," said DiMatteo. "The support from the overwhelming majority of organic businesses and the administration for a prompt solution has been great."

 

The "USDA Organic" seal currently guarantees that the consumer is getting a product made from 95 percent or more organic ingredients and processed with the least amount of non-organic ingredients and processing aids. 

 

“We spent 12 years developing and establishing these rules", said George Siemon, CEO of the country’s largest organic cooperative.  "We strongly support Congress restoring the standards that the organic community has invested so much into and which have worked so well on the farm and in the marketplace.”

 

Under the court ruling, unless the 1990 law is clarified, numerous products now bearing the "USDA Organic" seal could disappear from store shelves, thus threatening the growth of organic farms and acreage and taking away markets and outlets for organic farmers. 
 

 "Any drastic changes like this are extreme, causing huge amounts of modifications in the regulations that would make it impossible for family farms such as ours to continue growing quality organic crops," said Jean Hediger, whose Golden Prairie Farm in Colorado grows organic wheat and millet. Products that would be in jeopardy include many breads, cereals, and snack items.

 

An economic impact report summarizing the results of a survey taken among OTA's membership has concluded that if the court decision directives are implemented, an estimated 25 percent of all manufacturers currently producing certified organic products would exit the organic industry altogether. Another 18 percent said they would change product formulations to include fewer organic ingredients or would eliminate many certified organic products currently sold in the marketplace. The projected net revenue loss for the manufacturing sector would be $758 million per year. That loss trickles down the supply chain to the farmer, causing potential economic devastation to those small and mid-sized organic farmers. [See chart below]

 

Support for retaining the existing National Organic Program is broad-based. Signatories to OTA's letter include large and small organic and natural businesses, representing every step of the organic supply chain from farm production of organic fresh fruits and vegetables to processors and retailers. Among the letter's supporters are the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Soyfoods Association of North America, as well as organic grain-producing businesses and organic dairies.

 

"Consumers want products that meet the national organic standards and are specifically seeking products with the USDA seal because it signifies that these products contain the most organic ingredients,' said Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Communications and Quality Standards for Whole Foods Market, Inc. "Shoppers have learned to look for the 'USDA Organic' seal so keeping it in place on the products now helps maintain consumer confidence in the comprehensive organic program we have all worked so hard to create and sustain."


The current organic standards reflect the recommendations of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a citizen's advisory board to the USDA on organic matters.  The board includes representatives of farmers and consumers.  Developing the standards involved over 12 years of public meetings, stakeholder discussion and compromise, two rounds of notice and comment rulemaking, and over 300,000 public comments.

 

Based on label categories created by Congress, the work of the NOSB has resulted in more choices in the organic marketplace. The federal regulations include the '100 percent organic' label category for shoppers seeking those products that can be made with organic ingredients and nothing else. "The 'Organic' label category expands the variety of organic products available and, by doing so, supports organic farming and makes products available for more consumers.  Having more farms using organic practices benefits everyone," DiMatteo added.

 

U.S. organic standards are as strict as any in the world, and throughout the world there are lists of specific allowed materials that are essential to making numerous organic processed products. These are non-agricultural materials, such as baking powder, carbon dioxide and certain sanitizers, that are necessary for many processed foods and have been used safely for decades. These materials are strictly regulated, must go through extensive review, and must be chosen by the citizen board before they may be allowed in organic food production.

 

"OTA supports the strict review of materials and the role of the citizen board in approving these materials for use in products that carry the 'USDA Organic' seal," said DiMatteo. 

 

The mission of the Organic Trade Association is to promote and protect the growth of organic trade to benefit the environment, farmers, the public and the economy. OTA envisions organic products becoming a significant part of everyday life, enhancing people's lives and the environment. As a membership-based business association, the Organic Trade Association focuses on the organic business community in North America. OTA's more than 1,600 members include farmers, processors, importers, exporters, distributors, retails, certifiers, and more. For further information, visit OTA's web site at www.ota.com.

###

USDA Certified Organic Wheat
From Farm to Table and Back Again:
Organic Breads, Crackers, Baked, Packaged and Frozen Products in Jeopardy

                                          Current Organic Program          Scenario A (2)               Scenario  B (3)    

Grower  Profits and acreage increase every year *  Profits and acreage planted continue to increase  20% of growers will stop planting organic (4) 
Supplier Many potential customers Number of potential customers increases Fewer potential customers to sell to as most processed foods can no longer be labeled as 'USDA organic' 
Shippers/Handlers Large variety of products Number and variety of products increase  Added expense to change post-harvest practices to meet the new standards
Processor/Manufacturer Wheat is processed with other certified organic ingredients and allowed materials on the NOP list** to produce various products such as bread, crackers and baked goods Greater number enter the marketplace  25% will exit the organic category with an estimated sales loss of $758 mil/year (4)
Distributor/Broker Large variety of products Increase in number and variety of products available  Marked decrease in number and variety of products available
Retailer Sales of assorted breads ($966 mil/per year), pastas, snacks, ($484 mil per year), baked and frozen goods ($1.326 billion per year) with sales growing at an average rate of 22.83% per year (1) Merchandise diversity and sales continue to increase  Product selection dwindles and sales decrease by an estimated $139 mil/year in the bread/grains category and $97 mil/year in snack foods (4) 
Consumer Diverse and growing choices which lead to increased use of organic products Use of organic products continues to increase Less demand due to decreased choices and confusion about labeling 
Environment Reduction in use of  toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers leads to greater biodiversity, healthy soil, less water pollution Reduction in use of  toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers leads to greater biodiversity; healthy soil; less water pollution  More toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are used due to decreased organic acreage
This chart is intended as an example and does not represent cumulative impact.
* The organic industry has been growing at a rate of 17 - 21% annually for 15 years.
** National Organic Program (NOP) approved list of 38 materials that are needed to the processing of many organic foods.
(1) Organic Trade Association's 2004 Manufacturer Survey
(2) OTA's amendment passes; the law changes and the current NOP standards remain in place.
(3) OTA's amendment is defeated; the law stays the same and the standards change, removing materials needed to produce a variety of products now labeled as "USDA organic."
(4) 2005 Economic Impact Industry Survey for OTA

October 24, 2005

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