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After being hampered by COVID, Regenerative Organic Certified is Poised to Have a Banner Year

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With “regenerative” remaining a confusing and often misleading term, not to mention being co-opted by major pesticide corporations, the importance of Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC) continues to grow.

This certification has very clear standards and third-party enforcement, and it uses USDA organic as a baseline, while also taking into account soil health, animal welfare and social fairness; both hydroponics and organic “factory” dairy farms are prohibited.

And despite the fact that ROC products are far from ubiquitous right now, many people consider this certification to be the new gold standard in organic.

We recently spoke with Elizabeth Whitlow, Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, which oversees ROC, to get an update on where things stand with her organization.

How has COVID impacted ROC?

Right when the pandemic hit, about two years ago, we had been finalizing our pilot program with 19 farms around the world. A primary goal of the pilot was to fine-tune the standards that were initially introduced in 2018. They had to be both workable and feasible for farmers in the field, but critically, we wanted to maintain the aspirational, high-bar intentions of our founders. As we were incorporating this feedback and creating final standards, our plan was to open up the certification to any interested party.

However, COVID interrupted everything and created massive delays for our program. The biggest bottleneck we faced was certifiers not being able to travel from country to country. So, the number of farms that we could certify during this period was very limited, and all of the incoming applicants had to exercise a great deal of patience.

In some rare instances, we did allow audits to be done remotely if they had recently undergone an organic onsite audit. Yet, that was the exception, not the norm. For us, we need to be touching the soil and seeing the animals and workers, and it is essential to do a worker interview in person.

For example, if you are interviewing an employee via Zoom to inquire about the working conditions, you would have absolutely no idea if their boss is standing behind the camera and intimidating them. There is so much at stake for a potentially marginalized, vulnerable workforce, and we were keenly focused on not unintentionally jeopardizing their safety.

As it stands today and with the pilot program behind us, we have 43 ROC-certified entities throughout the world, representing 28,000 smallholder farms and accounting for nearly 165,000 acres. We are now certifying almost 100 different crops, including grains, dairy, herbs and eggs. At the moment, there is no ROC meat, but we are in discussions with a group for this category. Multi-ingredient products should be available soon, and we are hoping to add a new A2 milk supplier in the Northeast within the next few months.

Now that the world appears to be opening up, how is 2022 looking?

We are very optimistic for several reasons.

First, we have many more certifiers coming on board, all of whom have been trained to do ROC audits and reviews. CCOF has about 12 people getting trained, and certifiers such as Where Food Comes From and PCO are investing significant resources. And in Latin America, we are adding three new excellent certifiers, which will be incredibly helpful.

Up until this point, we have had three certifiers, with two of them doing the lion’s share of the work. So, the number of new certifiers will be a game-changer for us.

Second, our back-end system, Ecert, is now installed and working really well. This software will allow us to scale and operate much more efficiently, including offering enhanced communication tools to certifiers. This is absolutely critical.

What is most encouraging is that we now have the infrastructure and resources in place to process the 168 applicants who currently want to become ROC certified. With our new website, anyone can go to our Certified Listing Map and easily search for ROC ingredients and farms throughout the world, making it much easier for brands to source raw products.

This is poised to be our best year yet, and growth should be explosive.

(Elizabeth Whitlow, Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance)

Are there any specific sectors that are drawing increased attention?

The fashion industry has been the most interested, from the high-end labels to the brands that provide everyday clothing, and it is a sector that is really trying to clean up its dirty image. These companies emit a ton of carbon and have created ‘fast fashion,’ which has been extremely problematic — from child labor to chemical dyes to toxic pesticides ruining rivers to the methane gas from landfills. Not to mention that cotton has long had issues with organic fraud, especially in certain regions and with loose handling of transaction certificates. Our program is more robust and designed with far more traceability and accountability, along with improved soil health and social fairness.

Of course, we hear from many, many food brands as well. And for good reason.

If you look at the work of Dan Kittredge at the Bionutrient Food Association or Jill Clapperton of Rhizoterra, the data is showing that food grown in healthier soil is better for you. People are looking at the bionutrient quality of food and connecting that with healthier soil. Finally, we’ve also had plenty of interest coming in from the winegrape sector, which is really exciting!

What are you most concerned about?

Despite all of this very positive momentum, the fact that organic comprises less than 1% of U.S. farmland is unacceptable. With Europe’s target of 25% of organic farmland by 2030, it is time for American citizens to elect politicians who prioritize regenerative organic farming.

The planet cannot afford for the U.S. to be under 1%, yet there is no real urgency in Congress to address this situation. That needs to change.

With gratitude,

Max Goldberg, Founder

New Organic Products

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Prebiotic Soda from VINA

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Uplift Sweet Mint Yerba Mate from Brew Dr.

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This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
The New York Times

NYT Investigates Fraudulent Organic Cotton from India

By Alden Wicker, Emily Schmall, Suhasini Raj and Elizabeth Paton

Similar to The Washington Post's story a few years ago about fraudulent organic grains from Turkey and Ukraine, this article exposes just how easy it is for bad actors in India to manipulate the USDA’s antiquated and porous paper-based system. Here is the response to the NYT article from the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

Food Business News

Plant-Based Nutrition Brands KOS closes $12M Round

By Sam Danley

The fast-growing company secured its Series A round, led by industry veterans and entrepreneurs Clayton Christopher and Brian Goldberg.

Food Dive

Empty Shelves Sapped Food Retailers of $82B in CPG Sales Last Year

By Sam Silverstein

According to data released by NielsenIQ, this figure underscores the impact supply chain challenges have had on food retailers.

Second Course

Michelob runs Two Organic Ads During the Super Bowl

The ad with professional golfer and four-time Major champion Brooks Koepka featured Michelob ULTRA organic seltzer. The ad with award-winning international singer Becky G featured Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold organic beer.


Ancient Nutrition partners with Rodale Institute for Regenerative Ag Transition

By Stephen Daniells

Ancient Nutrition will implement regenerative techniques on 4,000+ acres of organic farmland and will also partner with Rodale on a 14-year project to objectively study methods to revolutionize environmental regeneration and healthy food production through carbon sequestration, water conservation and soil microbiome diversity.

Organic Farmers Association

USDA appoints Four New Members to the National Organic Standards Board

The new members will each serve five-year terms, through January 2027, and two certified organic farmers were appointed to the board.

Third Course
Food Dive

Nestlé to Buy Majority Stake in Orgain

By Christopher Doering

Nestlé's health science division is buying a majority stake in Orgain, a maker of protein powders, shakes and bars, for an undisclosed amount.

Dairy Reporter

USDA to Invest $1B in “Climate-Smart Commodities” and Market Expansion

By Jim Cornall

Funding will be provided to partners who implement climate-smart production practices, activities and systems on working lands; measure/quantify, monitor and verify the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits associated with those practices; and develop markets and promote the resulting climate-smart commodities.

Food Ingredients 1st

Organic Food in the EU May be Harmed by Pending Eco-Labeling Proposal, IFOAM warns

By Benjamin Ferrer

In an attempt to harmonize green claims and create eco-labels that cover various aspects of food production, the EU organic sector has swiftly opposed this measure and called the situation “worrying."

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* During my interview on Compass Coffee Talk, I discussed the two biggest challenges facing organic and how we can address them.

* Center for Food Safety has formally petitioned the FDA to regulate nanomaterials in infant formula.

* REBBL founder David Batstone has just been named the new CEO of Blackstone Technology Holding AG, a 3D printing technology company for lithium-ion batteries.

* In Chicago, Daily Harvest has opened its first tasting room.

* StartOrganic’s online organic vegetable gardening program enables HR teams to improve employee engagement while reducing worker stress by up to 92%.

* Cafe Gratitude has expanded its meal delivery service beyond Los Angeles, now to San Diego and Orange County.

* SAMBAZON has provided $1M in support of the Brazilian Amazon, with funds having gone to infrastructure projects and the building of schools and health centers.

* 1/3rd of Americans have this super-toxic weedkiller in their bodies….and it is not glyphosate.

* On March 21st, the USDA’s National Organic Program will be holding a listening session to guide the prioritization of future organic standards development.

* The situation that is now unfolding in Mexico with avocados is incredibly troubling, especially for the farmers.

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