Organic News

“Rewilding” would allow GMOs in Organic

June 4, 2015 - A recent Danish study on the concept of “Rewilding” advocates the inclusion of genetically-modified plant varieties in organic agriculture. “Rewilding,” or “Back-to-Nature Breeding” sound much more organic-friendly than “Genetically Modified and Licensed” – but are they essentially the same thing?

The study, Feasibility of new breeding techniques for organic farming,” builds an argument for allowing lab-based genetic modification techniques to be used to develop seeds for the organic market. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are currently banned from organic production by both U.S. and E. U. regulations.

But the Danish scientists, in collaboration with lawyers and economists, have identified a possible ambiguity in the U.S. National Organic Program standards. European organic standards forbid the process of lab-based genetic engineering, while U.S. and Canadian regulations focus on the result. The Danes’ solution? Use lab technology, but call the result something other than a GMO.

Applicants Sought for National Organic Standards Board

May 18, 2015 - The USDA is seeking five new members for the 15-member National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), and has extended the deadline for nominations to June 17, 2015 – providing an additional month to apply.

The NOSB is seeking to fill seats reserved for two organic farmers/producers, two representatives of public-interest or consumer-interest groups, and one USDA-accredited organic certification expert. The term of service for the open positions runs from Jan. 2016 through Jan. 2021.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is a Federal Advisory Committee tasked with reviewing materials allowed in organic farming systems, and advising the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture on the implementation of the Organic Foods Production Act. OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer encouraged organic farmers to consider applying.

Organic Certification Cost Sharing Funds Available for 2015

May 15, 2015 - Two cost-sharing programs aimed at easing the cost of organic certification have announced $11.9 million in funding for 2015, allowing organic farmers throughout the U.S. to recoup as much as 75 percent of certification expenses paid between Oct. 1, 2014 and Sept. 30, 2015, not to exceed $750 per certification.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) makes the cost-share assistance available through state departments of agriculture, lowering economic hurdles for organic producers and handlers across the country.

Organic Systems Provide More Value Than Conventional, Research Finds

May 14, 2015 - A newly-published study comparing organically-managed and conventional farmland in New Zealand found that organic fields consistently provide more value per acre in the production of beans, peas, barley and wheat.

The study, authored by Harpinder Sandhu, Ph.D., and a team of scientists from Australia, New Zealand, England, Denmark and the U.S., calculated and compared the value of both “non-traded ecosystem services,” and the market value, of crops produced on matched pairs of ten organic and ten conventional farm fields. The scientists found that organic provided more value using either approach.

OTA Launches Drive for Organic Check-Off

May 15, 2015 - In a long-anticipated move, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) this week formally petitioned the USDA to begin the process of establishing a research and promotion check-off program for the organic industry. The proposed check-off, dubbed the Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic (GRO Organic), is expected to initially raise $30 million per year to promote the organic industry.

GRO Organic would be the first U.S. agricultural check-off program to promote a production method and not a specific crop such as dairy (“Got Milk?”) or pork (“the other white meat”), and supporters say it could be a game-changer for the entire organic industry. 

“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," said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA. 

USDA Revives Effort to Update Biotechnology Rules

May 14, 2015 – A long-stalled effort to update federal rules regulating genetically-engineered organisms in agriculture has been revived by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which is encouraging public input on the issue through June 22, 2015.

In February the agency formally withdrew proposed regulations that were published in 2008, but never finalized, largely due to an avalanche of more than 88,000 comments submitted by stakeholders. The proposed rules would have amended existing regulations regarding the introduction, importation, interstate movement, and environmental release of certain genetically engineered organisms in the U.S.

OFRF Comments on Agricultural Coexistence

May 11, 2015

Re: Public Comments on Docket No. APHIS-2013-0047

On behalf of the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), I submit the following comments on the U.S. Department of Agricultureʼs (USDA) request for public input on enhancing agricultural coexistence (Docket No. APHIS-2013- 0047).

USDA Reopens Public Comment on Coexistence

April 29, 2015 – A lively debate on the subject of agricultural coexistence has persuaded the U.S. Department of Agriculture to further extend an already-stretched deadline for public comment on the topic to May 11, 2015.

USDA’s Stakeholder Workshop on Coexistence was held March 12-13 at North Carolina State University, but public debate sparked by the workshop has continued unabated. The initial comment deadline was pushed from March 27 to April 10, but as comments continued to pour in, the agency officially re-opened the comment period today, with a new closing date of May 11.

Click here to read OFRF's official comments to the USDA on Coexistence. 

Comments received on the USDA website from April 10-27, when the comment period was technically closed, will be included in the official record. As of today, more than 4,500 comments on coexistence have been submitted via the agency’s web portal.

Organic or Conventional - It Depends on the Definition of “Herd”

April 28, 2015 - The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has issued proposed rules aimed at limiting the transition of non-organically-raised dairy animals into organic production, moving to resolve a debate that has long roiled the organic dairy industry.

The proposed rules would narrow an exception originally designed to make it easier for conventional dairy farmers to convert their operations to organic. In general, dairy animals must be raised on organic feed and under organic management practices from the third trimester of gestation before their eventual milk production can be certified as organic. But National Organic Program (NOP) regulations include an exception for conventional dairy farmers wishing to transition to organic production.

For those farmers, the NOP allows an existing dairy herd to be reclassified as organic after no less than 12 months of organic management. The exception was intended as a one-time event to help individual farmers avoid the substantial hurdle of herd replacement. Milk from transitioned cows may be sold as organic, but the cows themselves cannot later be sold for slaughter as organic beef.  

Organic Sales, Farm Growth Soar in 2014

April 15, 2015 - The U.S. organic industry enjoyed robust growth in 2014, with the number of certified organic farms increasing by more than 5 percent over 2013, and domestic sales of all organic products soaring 11 percent to more than $39 billion.

Organic food sales accounted for $35.9 billion of that total, with organic fruits and vegetables now accounting for 12 percent of all produce sold in the U.S. And while organic exports are growing, they are dwarfed by organic imports, reflecting U.S. farmers’ inability to keep pace with demand.

The statistics were released today to coincide with this week’s Organic Policy Conference and Hill Days in Washington DC, an annual gathering of organic stakeholders sponsored by the Organic Trade Association. Speaking to a sold-out crowd at Washington's Newseum, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the number of certified organic farms in the U.S. increased to 19,474 last year, out of a global total of 27,814. Read the USDA press release here.