This summer, while the organic foods industry prepares to harvest the fruits of its long-fought-for federal standard, the California Assembly is sowing the seeds of new legislation that will broaden that state's organic program and regulate all products marketed with the organic claim, not just foods.
The California Organic Production Act was written by a task force and sponsored by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom Martin. The bill would harmonize the state's program with aspects of the National Organic Program, said Ray Green, supervisor, State of California, Department of Food and Agriculture. "And [it will] also stretch out the umbrella and regulate every entity within California that is using the word organic [on] any product."
The pending legislation covers all segments of the organic industry—fiber products, pet foods, supplements and personal care—but the standards are more of a baseline, not comprehensive, said Gay Timmons, director of the COPA task force. "We wanted to create a foundation of what the word organic minimally means," Timmons said.
The task force didn't determine a materials list or define which processes could or couldn't be used in creating organic products. Timmons said the goal was to put some agreed-upon standards on the table and encourage the industry segments to work together and create more detailed standards, which is similar to how the state developed its organic foods standards a decade ago.
"If consumers are confused, that hurts the marketplace for farmers and producers," Timmons said.
But some industry members think the bill may be premature. "It's important to protect the word organic," said Brian Leahy, president of California Certified Organic Farmers, "but I'm not quite sure how this bill will do that."
He's concerned that as written the bill will interfere with the certification efforts of the NOP, and he said the fee structure places undue burden on the industry in general and farmers particularly. Further, he thinks the broad scope of the bill and a lack of industry consensus among the new organic segments will be problematic.
"The intentions are great," Leahy said. "But the devil is in the details."
He pointed to the supplements industry as one that might be particularly difficult to develop standards for. "Once it gets into the legislative process, people will be coming out of the woodwork," Leahy said. "It's easier to sabotage something than to make it work."
But at press time, Timmons said the bill faces little opposition and is on schedule and headed to the Agriculture Committee. "Additional amendments are probably going to be needed," she said. "But that's expected. We didn't create a perfect bill. This is an ongoing process."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 4/p. 1