Melody Meyer, Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations

May 17, 2016

3 Min Read
Tell Congress to 'butt out' of organic

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has been kicking around animal welfare standards since 2002. That’s when it first delved into the debate and passed its first recommendation clarifying rules to outdoor access for livestock in organic. How much room should a hen have? How much pasture grass should a cow munch? Are animals allowed to spread their wings, frolic afield and have something to crow about? After much debate and years of public comment, the National Organic Program (NOP) recently issued a draft regulation on animal welfare that reflects the sentiment and intent of the organic community. Now, four companies (and their conventional agriculture trade association) want it overturned.

This week, Congress is considering including a dangerous “rider” in the appropriations process that would strip the NOP’s authority by defunding the NOP Organic Livestock and Poultry program. It’s time to speak up and tell Congress to butt out of the organic process!

Why is this a dangerous precedent?

In 1990, Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act, which set up a regulatory system under which organic operations could be certified. That law granted regulatory authority to the National Organic Program (NOP) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It also set up the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a federal advisory committee tasked with advising the Secretary on the organic regulations. The process is the most transparent and thoroughly vetted food system we have.

It’s clear that Congress should not be in the business of writing organic standards, which is why Congress set up the NOSB process in the first place. If Congress can be henpecked into tweaking and trading every little thing their constituents don’t like, the entire process falls apart.

The discussion has been going on for 16 years.

Ever since the organic regulations were hatched in 2000, animal welfare standards have been needed. Organic consumers expect that organic farms take care of animals in a humane way. That why people buy organic, yet the regulatory process has fallen behind in this area. NOSB passed its first recommendation clarifying outdoor access rules in organic in 2002. Years went by, companies weighed in, people dialogued, disagreed and crowed about it until the cows came home. Then in December 2011, NOSB unanimously passed a recommendation that NOP must draft animal welfare regulations for the organic sector.

Finally in 2016, after much investigation, exploration and evaluation, NOP issued a draft regulation in line with that NOSB recommendation. Now, because four powerful companies are henpecking Congressional leaders, Congress may foul up the entire process.

If Congress steps in now to rewrite this particular organic standard, the precedent would be enormous. Rejecting the transparent, public-private partnership method of creating organic regulations in this instance is a dangerous precedent to set. It calls into question the entire process by which organic regulations are set—a process that Congress created, the industry has worked within, and consumers trust. Once this barn door is opened, you won’t be able to get the horses back in!

Tell the Senate we want even stronger organic animal welfare standards! This THURSDAY, the Senate will attempt to block regulations that provide better living conditions, including more access to the outdoors, for animals raised for organic meat and poultry and for organic egg production. Call your Senator today:

Here are a few talking points:

  • Consumers who choose organic are actively selecting an item produced in accordance with specific standards different from other products on grocery store shelves. For decades, they have trusted the USDA Organic label. Congress should not step in to overturn organic standards that have gone through the proper regulatory process. Doing so would remove the market differentiation the consumer values when he or she buys organic products.

  • Every day, more and more consumers all across the nation are choosing organic products. That’s the benefit of free enterprise and consumer choice. Congress shouldn’t override consumer choice by gutting the organic standard and the process by which it is created. If the process by which organic regulations are created is undermined, the entire organic marketplace is undermined, and consumer trust and confidence in the integrity of the USDA organic seal are also in jeopardy.

About the Author(s)

Melody Meyer

Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations, United Natural Foods Inc.

Melody Meyer is the vice president of policy and industry relations for United Natural Foods (UNFI). She is responsible for communicating and educating all stakeholders on critical industry issues and is active in advocating for fair and equitable funding for organic agriculture.

Melody’s career spans several decades in the organic and natural foods industry, including nine years of international trade and development. She began her career in 1976 working in an Iowa Natural Food Cooperative. Her early years in the retail segment of the burgeoning organic industry provided valuable experience buying from local farmers and providing fair returns in order to increase their organic acreage. This experience led to a lifelong dream of changing the way people eat and farm.

Melody founded her own business in 1995, Source Organic, which joined organic producers all over the country directly with national retailers and wholesalers. Source Organic was eventually acquired by Albert’s Organics (a division of United Natural Foods UNFI) in 2001 and it became the procurement department for all organic fresh produce purchased for the company. Her dream was being realized on a national scale!

In 2004 she began importing directly from small banana producers in Latin America. They were uniting and developing self-governed organizations enabling the small producers to export internationally for the first time. This international business provided a new level of prosperity, allowing the communities to increase much-needed social systems and infrastructure.

She has been deeply involved in introducing fair trade certification to growers in Latin America with Fair Trade USA and FLO.  The fair trade premiums are managed by self-governed worker groups to provide education, reforestation, access to clean water and health care.

Melody is proud to be the current executive director of the UNFI Foundation, which is dedicated to funding nonprofit organizations that promote organic and sustainable agriculture and healthy food systems. Priorities of the foundation include organic research, protecting biodiversity of seeds, promoting transparent labeling and educating consumers on healthy food choices.

She is serving her second term on the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association (OTA).  She also sits on the California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic Products Advisory Committee (COPAC).

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