Delivering the week’s top organic food news
2.21.2018
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Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario is Taking on a Very Important Leadership Role in the Organic Industry


Many people may recognize Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario as the person who is spearheading the lawsuit against the Trump administration for its decision to reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah.

What may not be as well-known is that she pushed the company to launch a certified organic food line in 2012 called Patagonia Provisions, and over the past year she has taken an active role in some of the most critical issues the organic industry is facing.

Along with Dr. Bronner’s and Rodale Institute, Patagonia is one of the primary backers of the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), which is poised to become the gold standard in organic. Additionally, the company made a concerted effort to urge the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to ban hydroponics in organic.

With her keynote address at Natural Products Expo West just two weeks away, I caught up with Rose Marcario to talk about a handful of subjects. Below is an edited version of our conversation.

Where is the organic industry right now and what do you think about its leadership?

We are just starting to get involved, so I have to reserve judgment at this point.

However, I am concerned that there is an effort to lower standards, such as what we have seen at the NOSB with hydroponics. We were disappointed in the NOSB vote (when it voted not to recommend to ban hydroponics in organic) and see it as very detrimental to both the organic industry and the organic designation. It felt to me like the NOSB has lost its way.

As a brand, it is important for us to step up and speak on issues of transparency, soil health and the ethical protection of workers and animals.

Clif Bar has had a very prominent role in keeping hydroponics in organic, largely because one of its executives is the chair of the NOSB and he has been viewed as an advocate for hydroponics in organic.

Along with the backing of numerous other companies, Patagonia sent a letter to the NOSB urging it to ban hydroponics in organic. What else did Patagonia do about this and why?

We sent a letter to Clif Bar founder Gary Erickson, his CEO Kevin Cleary, and to Clif Bar’s representative on the NOSB. We did not get the response we wanted and were disappointed by it.

We also wrote about this hydroponics issue on our blog and posted Dave Chapman’s recap after the vote, as many customers do not understand that some of the produce they are buying is not grown in soil.

There is nothing wrong with hydroponics, but it should have its own designation and not be conflated with organic. Right now, it is meant to be confusing for consumers.

Why did Patagonia decide to get behind the Regenerative Organic Certification? What is the latest with the program?

At Expo West 2017, there was a movement to use the term “regenerative” and abandon the word “organic”. We were very concerned that it would water down organic by just using “regenerative” and felt that it was important to put the two together.

Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) makes it clear that there is a high bar for soil health, regenerative practices, and animal and worker welfare. There is an educational component to it as well.

We received over 400 comments about the proposed standards for ROC, and some people said that they were too onerous and prescriptive. As such, we are making adjustments and will soon be rolling out the pilot program for ROC, which will last 9-12 months.

The pilot program — which has already received commitments from fiber companies, farmers and brands — will teach us a lot and give us plenty of valuable information. If we need to make further adjustments during or after the pilot program, we will.

The goal is to bring as many of the right people that we can in the room, such as Rodale, The Savory Institute’s Land to Market program and Demeter, and to learn as much as possible. We are very excited about ROC.

 

MY TAKE

While the consumer demand for organic has never been stronger, serious concerns on the political and regulatory side remain. Some of these include:

* The Trump administration taking the brazen step of scrapping the hard-fought Organic Animal Welfare Standards.

* Hydroponics continuing to be allowed and promoted by the USDA despite the fact that it is a clear violation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

* The USDA completely looking the other way in the case of Aurora Dairy violating organic rules.

* The serious problem of fraudulent imported organic grains from abroad.

What is becoming painfully apparent is that the government is not up to the task of truly enforcing the rules.

This means that the industry must take greater responsibility and do what it can to ensure that organic is being upheld to the standards that consumers expect.

And this is exactly why we should all be so reassured that someone of the caliber and integrity of Rose Marcario has decided to step forward and help lead the way.

Aside from the fact that she is running an $800 million global organization and is credited with quadrupling Patagonia’s profits and revenues during her tenure as COO and CEO since 2008, she is willing to fight for what she believes in, even if it means suing the ruler of the free world and accusing him on her company’s website of stealing our land.

Rose Marcario has put a stake in the ground to raise the bar for organic and to make sure that it is protected — for the benefit of consumers, farmers, and our planet.

We are incredibly lucky to have her.

****
Rose Marcario will be delivering a keynote address at Natural Products Expo West on Saturday, March 10th at 2pm on the Arena Plaza Stage.


Patagonia Action Works is the company’s recently released tool which aims to connect people with environmental non-profits in their area.

Have a great day!

Max Goldberg, Founder

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