USDA Seeks Comments on Organic Checkoff

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is seeking public comments on its proposal for a new, industry-funded organic checkoff.

The proposed rule and program were published in the Jan. 18 Federal Register, and the public has 60 days to make comments.

Known as the “Organic Research, Promotion, and Information Order,” the program would cover certified organic products and would include a range of agricultural commodities, such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, poultry, breads, grains, snack foods, condiments, beverages, and packaged and prepared foods.

It would also include non-food items, such as textiles, personal care products, pet food, and flowers.

The checkoff would establish a framework of resources to develop new organic markets, strengthen existing markets, and conduct research and promotion activities.

Different perspectives

But support for an organic checkoff remains mixed, even among organic growers.

The Organic Trade Association said the checkoff would “provide research and key tools to encourage more farmers to go organic and help all organic farmers be more successful.”

The OTA also said the checkoff would help educate consumers, in a positive way, about what the organic seal means.

But some organic growers fear the checkoff would not adequately serve all growers, especially small farms.

Kate Mendenhall, executive director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, is leading a coalition of growers who are opposed to the checkoff.

“This is a disappointment for the organic sector,” Mendenhall said in a released statement. “Checkoff programs are not a good match for independent organic farmers.”

The proposal

According to USDA, certified domestic producers, handlers and importers of organic products would pay certain assessment rates if they choose to participate in the checkoff.

The program would provide voluntary exemptions for producers and handlers with gross organic sales of $250,000 or less during the prior marketing year; importers with $250,000 or less in transaction value of imported organic products; and organic products produced domestically and exported from the U.S.Producers and handlers with gross organic sales greater than $250,000 for the prior marketing year would pay one-tenth of one percent of net organic sales; and importers of organic products declaring a transaction value greater than $250,000 for the prior marketing year would pay one-tenth of one percent of the declared transaction value of organic products imported into the U.S.

A 17-member board would be appointed by the secretary of agriculture to administer the program and would be responsible for developing, financing and coordinating activities to support research, raise consumer awareness, and to improve access to information and data.

Review the rule

Copies of the proposed rule can be requested by mail, or viewed at www.regulations.gov.

The comment period will end March 20, and will be followed by the publication of the proposed rule.

Comments should be posted on www.regulations.gov or mailed to: Promotion and Economics Division, SCP, AMS, USDA Room 1406, Stop 0244, 1400 Independence Avenue SW Washington, DC 20250-0244.

Related coverage:

• Checkoff discussed at Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association meeting (2015)

 Farm bill exempts more organic producers from checkoffs (Jan. 14, 2015)

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