Last year, Nutrition Business Journal wrote about the need for a "Got Milk?"-style research and promotion order for the organic industry. Turns out, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) had the same idea.
The measure has now been in the works for more than a year. OTA is in the process of listening to organic stakeholders around the country about their feelings on an organic check-off program, and seeks advice on how best to organize one. It's still very early in the game.
In order to give organic stakeholders the choice to pursue a research & promotion program, OTA first must petition for two technical fixes to the Farm Bill. One is to amend the requirement that producers have to be 100% organic to be exempted from conventional check-off programs, and broaden that exemption so farmers who produce both conventional and organic crops can choose which program to support. The second fix is to qualify organic as a commodity class—because organic is a multi-commodity sector, it’s ineligible for a check-off program under the current law.
Passing the new Farm Bill—an omnibus bill that is reopened every five years—has been delayed until after the election, and will either be renewed during the lame duck period or when Congress goes back into session after the Presidential inauguration.
Making 'Got Organic?' a reality
But beyond those fixes lies the real work: defining and establishing the framework for assessments and governance. According to Laura Batcha, executive director of OTA, there is “a lot of agreement about the need for a common, unified voice and supportive research” among organic stakeholders, but myriad details need to be ironed out before the program can advance.
Who pays? Who’s in charge? Should producers be exempt? Should retailers be exempt? Does organic even want a mandatory check-off in the first place?
The program is still in the phase of hosting town halls and webinars to hear industry’s opinions, suggestions and concerns. The first of these town halls took place at Natural Products Expo East 2011, and are currently running through February 2013. A list of remaining meetings can be viewed here on OTA’s website.
The following infographic displays the necessary steps for making an organic research and promotion order possible.