OTA pushes forward with voluntary checkoff campaign after USDA pulled the plug on national effort

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

OTA pushes forward with voluntary organic checkoff campaign
Members of the Organic Trade Association are moving forward with a voluntary organic research, promotion and education check-off program after the US Department of Agriculture unexpectedly pulled the plug on what would have been a mandatory check-off program that many in the industry worked for years to create.

USDA’s decision to terminate the rulemaking that would have established a national research and promotion program for certified organic products “blindsided”​ the industry, which worked with USDA for five years under the Obama administration to craft a program that took into account the needs of players across the organic industry and did not disparage conventionally produced products.

The agency attributed its 11th​ hour decision​ in a Federal Register notice to “uncertain industry support for and outstanding substantive issues with the proposed program,”​ some of which likely came from members of the Organic Farmers Association, which argued the checkoff program would have created more paperwork for already burdened farmers, and supporters of the Cornucopia Institute, which compared the program to an additional tax on organic.

While the national program may have been terminated, the need to educate consumers about organic and provide more technical assistance to help farmers transition to organic remains, OTA argues in a Sept. 6 statement.

“Responding to that need, we are launching a two-track effort to develop a voluntary governance approach and to also advance initiatives that will deliver immediate big wins for the organic sector,”​ OTA CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha said in the statement.

She explained the trade association has formed a steering committee to develop a program under the banner Generate Results and Opportunity for Organic, or GRO.

Under the steering committee, a governance subcommittee will tackle how to govern a voluntary program to maximize participation and impact. OTA expects the subcommittee will open a comment period this fall to solicit input from stakeholders on how best to organize the effort.

At the same time, an immediate programming subcommittee will coordinate multi-prong private efforts to foster coordinated organic research and promotion “proto-type programs,”​ that will “serve as proven projects for investment when a formal voluntary program rolls out,”​ according to OTA.

An early example of a prototype program is OTA’s new partnership with Organic Voices’ ‘It’s Not Complicated’ campaign to raise $1 million each for the next two years to educate consumers about the definition and value of organic.

Other potential projects could include consumer research on how to reinforce the organic brand, research “to fill in gaps for organic farmers”​ and illustrate the impact of organic on the environment and human health, and fund additional organic extension agents nationwide, according to OTA.

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