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Gary Hirshberg

Organic brand leaders appeal for check-off support

Stonyfield Chairman Gary Hirshberg and Organic Valley CEO George Siemon support the proposed organic check-off. Here, they explain why organic certificate holders should as well.

This is a personal appeal to all of our fellow organic processors and manufacturers who have a stake in the future of organic to help make an organic check-off program a reality. 

This is not a financial appeal, but we need a bit of your time and attention. A recent Consumer Reports survey underscored what many of us already know—a large percentage of consumers credit “natural” with the attributes that only come from buying organic:

  • 86 percent of consumers believe that foods labeled as “natural” contain ingredients grown without pesticides.
  • 87 percent believe “natural” foods do not include artificial ingredients.
  • 85 percent believe they do not contain GMOs.

Organic businesses simply can’t afford this confusion.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now officially published its proposal for an organic check-off and is seeking public comments. After the comment period is closed, USDA will cull through and review the responses, then publish its final proposal. The last step will be a vote by all participating certified organic stakeholders on whether to make the proposal a reality. This will stretch well into 2017.

There is no doubt that we need a large, loud, coordinated plan to clear up consumer misunderstanding about organic. An organic check-off would enable the entire sector to benefit from consumer education, as well as on-farm and regional research solutions that will ultimately increase the number of organic farmers. It would be a game changer for organic.

To pay for this, the organic check-off will be an industrywide opportunity for all organic stakeholders to join together to build a research and education effort in which all certificate holders—producers, handlers, brand manufacturers, co-packers and even importers—with gross annual sales above $250,000 would contribute to a collective fund. The proposed assessment calls for one-tenth of 1 percent of revenues. So, for example, there would be a maximum $1,000 assessment for every $1 million in gross organic revenue. And all contributing stakeholders will then have a say in how the money is spent.

The proposed organic check-off also creates an exemption for small farmers and businesses that make less than $250,000 per year. However, even these exempt operations could voluntarily choose to contribute to the collective fund at the same assessment level and participate in the program governance. All stakeholders would be assessed at the same rate, so for an organic farm with organic sales of, for example, $90,000 a year, the yearly assessment would be $90. Businesses that already participate in another federal check-off (egg dairy, eggs or soy) would get to choose where to direct their assessment.

This could be a clear win for all of us, but to make it a reality, you need to show your support. Please vote for the check-off when the USDA holds its referendum on the proposal. And please urge fellow organic certificate holders to do the same.

This can be the moment we give organic a beautiful future!

For additional information,visit Or contact Tessa Young at the Organic Trade Association ( with specific questions.

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