Supporting Kathleen Merrigan
and the National Organic Program
What is the National Organic Program?
Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill, known as the Organic Foods Production Act, established the National Organic Program within the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA. It also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), an advisory body to the NOP. The Director of the NOP is Keith Jones.
Who is Kathleen Merrigan, and why should she be supported?
Kathleen Merrigan is a former OTA member and member of the National Organic Standards Board. In June, 1999 she was appointed the Administrator of the AMS. The growth of organic agriculture is threatening to established agricultural businesses, and Kathleen is in a difficult position. She oversees more than the organic program, and her progressive policies are not always favorably received. Congress will be hearing from the dairy industry, for example, that Kathleen is not furthering their interests. OTA members need to provide a counterbalance, showing Congress that she has strong support among many of their constituents.
How can congresspeople support the NOP?
There are two major ways to support the NOP—expediting the current process and providing adequate funding in the future.
When the Proposed Rule has been sent by the NOP to the Office of the General Counsel and the Office of Management and Budget, congresspeople can call those offices and urge them to expedite the process of reviewing the Proposed Rule. It is already nine years since OFPA was passed, and it is time to move forward. If the Proposed Rule has not been sent to the OGC and the OMB by the time OTA members meet with them, OTA will let them know when to make the calls.
The NOP has had to draw a dozen or so staff from other USDA programs to write the Proposed Rule for organic products. It is the NOP’s responsibility not only to write the Proposed Rule but also, when the Rule is in place, to accredit the certifiers of organic producers. This will take additional staff, and given the steady 20% annual growth in the organic industry, the NOP will need to grow to keep up. Congress should not only fund the NOP adequately to write the rules but to follow up on their responsibilities as accreditors to the organic industry.
Please ask your congressperson to call the OMB and request a timely process for reviewing the Proposed Rule, and one which maintains the integrity of organic production.