Dave Carter IdeaXchange

Winter is coming for the organic industry

It's time for the organic family to gather around a common table to defend the very viability, and the integrity, of the National Organic Program.

The Trump administration is poised to fuel the greatest boon to the organic marketplace since the enactment of the National Organic Standards in 2002.

Not intentionally, though. Call it marketing based on uncertainty and fear.

Last month, Dow Chemical found a friendly audience with the Trump administration with a request to lift restrictions on a slate of organophosphate-based agricultural chemicals which have been found to contribute to neurological disorders in children and to be harmful to about 1,800 endangered or threatened species. EPA's new chief, Scott Pruitt, is clearing the agency’s files of studies connecting agricultural pesticides to environmental degradation. And proposed cuts in federal funding for research mean that private industry will be picking up the slack with studies designed to show only favorable aspects of the products they market.

Parents wanting to provide their children with a healthy diet, baby boomers looking to protect their health, and nearly anyone connecting the dots between diet, health and the environment, are understandably looking for a shield to protect themselves and their families. That shield is the USDA Organic seal.

I'm betting that many consumers who have only glanced at the organic seal in the past are going to give it a much longer look in future shopping trips. That is, if we can protect that little green shield.

Dynamic growth in the organic marketplace is already placing serious strain on the USDA’s National Organic Program’s ability to provide oversight and enforcement. The organic marketplace last year surpassed $43 billion in sales. Yet, the National Organic Program has 36 employees to make sure that the standards are adequately enforced. That’s one employee for every $1.2 billion in organic sales.

With President Trump proposing a 21 percent cut in the USDA budget, NOP faces even more significant threat in its ability to uphold the standards. The Heritage Foundation, which has a strong following at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., has even proposed privatizing the National Organic Program.

Over the past decade, the organic community has engaged in a lot of squabbles within the family. The Cornucopia Institute and the Organic Trade Association have been pictured as mortal enemies on many issues. Small organic growers view the large organic retail brands with extreme suspicion. There seems to be no end to the differences within the organic family.

But the family itself may be under siege.

For those of us addicted to Game of Thrones, it’s time to follow the advice of Jon Snow: "We need to trust each other. We can’t fight a war amongst ourselves. The real enemy is yet to come."

Despite differences, it's time for the organic family to gather around a common table to defend the very viability, and the integrity, of the National Organic Program. The American public needs a shield.

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