OTA Seeks ‘Fair and Equitable’ Treatment for Organic Agriculture - Organic Trade Association
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OTA Seeks ‘Fair and Equitable’ Treatment for Organic Agriculture


Greenfield, Mass. (July 5, 2000)—Organic Trade Association (OTA) efforts to gain fair and equitable recognition of organic commodities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Research and Promotion Programs have resulted in a breakthrough, of sorts, for organic cotton.

Cotton Incorporated’s Board of Directors in early June overturned its policy of recognizing just conventionally grown cotton and agreed to also permit use of the "Seal of Cotton" and its associated trademarks on upland cotton fabrics and end products marketed as organic.

Historically, bale assessments for Cotton Incorporated have come from both conventional and organic cotton growers and handlers, yet Cotton Incorporated previously did not allow organic growers and handlers to use the Seal of Cotton.

However, even with the change, there still may be hurdles for organic cotton. Part of the new criteria for eligibility for using a Cotton Incorporated trademark, states: "the prospective licensee must not, either individually or as part of a collective effort, publicly denigrate, criticize, or otherwise negatively comment about cotton, cotton products, or cotton production systems."

The Organic Trade Association is concerned that truthful statements about pesticide use in conventional agriculture, for example, might be interpreted by Cotton Incorporated as criticizing a cotton production system, thus blocking the use of the Seal of Cotton for organic products.

"Manufacturers should be able to make truthful statements so that consumers better understand the environmental effects of their choices," said Katherine DiMatteo, OTA’s executive director.

The fight for fair and equitable treatment of organic cotton is part of the battle OTA continues to wage for all organic commodities. On June 23, 2000, OTA wrote to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service in response to draft oversight guidelines released Dec. 15, 1999, for USDA’s Research and Promotion Programs. In its letter, OTA reiterated its call for fair and equitable treatment of organic agriculture it previously presented in oral testimony at a March 8, 1999, public hearing and in written comments submitted April 8, 1999. OTA noted its input concerning the oversight guidelines were totally ignored in the December draft despite the fact that OTA was one of only four commenters who gave testimony at the public hearing on the handling of research fund allocations and commodity promotion efforts.

"Without a USDA mandate for fair and equitable support for all production methodologies applied to all commodities, both OTA and USDA will be forced to repeatedly revisit parity issues between organic and conventional agriculture and their products in the future," DiMatteo said.

According to the draft guidelines, the mission of all USDA research and promotion programs is "to maintain and expand the market for its commodity, whether through increased human food consumption, more exports, or new non-food uses. Expanding the market is considered the ultimate means to ensuring better returns for producers."

"Given the likely implementation of the national organic rule by year’s end and increasing public support of organically grown food and fiber, it is time to integrate support for organic agriculture into the fundamental fabric of U.S. agricultural research and promotion. To do so, USDA needs to make it very clear to its commodity boards and contractors that they should not discriminate against organic agriculture," DiMatteo said.

July 5, 2000

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