The time has finally arrived.
Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC), the new certification that we have been writing about for the last few years, is finally set to open its doors to all interested brands.
Started by Patagonia, Dr. Bronner’s and Rodale Institute, ROC aims to raise the bar for what organic represents. It uses the USDA organic certification as a baseline and then mandates additional requirements that address soil health, animal welfare and social fairness. The standard prohibits hydroponics and farms that do not treat animals humanely (“organic factory farms”), two of the most controversial areas in organic.
Over the past year, 19 companies from around the world participated in ROC’s pilot program, all trying to garner one of the three designations — bronze, silver or gold.
ROC was able to receive valuable feedback directly from its participants, and adjustments have since been made, most notably to the ones related to tillage, soil sampling and animal welfare.
“Everyone is very supportive of the changes we have made, all based on the feedback we gathered over the past five months,” said Elizabeth Whitlow, Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, the organization that oversees ROC. “The board has ensured that the standards remain high while at the same time making the certification attainable. It took a while to find common ground, but I am really excited about where we landed.”
This long-awaited public rollout of ROC is incredibly significant for a few primary reasons:
1) ROC poised to become the new gold standard in organic, displacing the USDA organic seal.
Over the years, many industry observers have grown very frustrated with the USDA, as the organic rules are not being enforced, and they believe the integrity of the seal has been damaged.
Reasons for their frustration include: the USDA is allowing hydroponics in organic (a complete violation of Section 6513 b-1 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990), organic “factory farms” are being tolerated, a proposal for new organic animal welfare standards was dropped, and the National Organic Standards Board is not allowed to set its own work agenda.
2) ROC’s social fairness component is more timely and important than ever.
Among other things, the social fairness pillar of the standard calls for fair payments for farmers, good working conditions and living wages. This pillar is especially relevant today, when the awareness for all people to be treated fairly, equally and with dignity has never been greater. Far too many of the H2A laborers from Latin America, who are essential to making sure our food gets picked and packed, work under conditions that are considered modern slavery. So, for companies who truly want to express their commitment to farmworkers, getting ROC certification is one way to accomplish this objective.
In preparation for ROC’s soft launch within the next few weeks, the organization has increased staffing and built out its infrastructure. Any brand that is interested in applying for certification should sign up for the ROC newsletter, and all relevant communication and announcements will be made through that channel.
Needless to say, this is an extremely exciting chapter for organic, and we will be watching ROC closely over the months and years ahead.
What cannot get overlooked in the launch of ROC is that one of its most important advocates and champions from the very beginning, Rose Marcario, resigned as the CEO of Patagonia last week.
Not only was she an absolutely revered leader inside and outside the industry, but Rose was a guiding force in the creation of ROC. She put her company’s full resources behind this initiative and ensured that regenerative organic was a cornerstone of Patagonia’s strategy.
With her sudden resignation, there was some trepidation that support for ROC within Patagonia may have weakened. Fortunately, that is not the case.
“Awareness and adaptation of the Regenerative Organic Certification remains a top priority for Patagonia and Patagonia Provisions. COVID-19 has exposed just how vulnerable our food system is and really increased the importance of transitioning from chemical, conventional agriculture to regenerative organic agriculture. We remain steadfast in our support for the community of farmers, suppliers and brands all working together to bring ROC to fruition. Phil Graves, who leads corporate development for us, will now be representing the company on the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA) board,” said Doug Freeman, Chief Operating Officer of Patagonia.
“Rose’s vision and manifestation power helped turn the dream of ROC into a reality,” said David Bronner, Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of Dr. Bronner’s. “It’s a huge loss. However, Phil Graves worked closely in the development of the standard and the formation of the ROA every step of the way, and the transition will be seamless. We are confident in Patagonia’s and Yvon’s (founder Yvon Chouinard) commitment to the regenerative organic vision and mission to heal and rebalance our broken relationship with nature.”
On a personal note, I echo David’s sentiments. The departure of Rose is an enormous loss for all of us. She led with incredible integrity and zero compromise, unwavering in her belief that organic must be protected at all costs. With organic under constant attack, there was a real sense of security knowing that Rose was always in our corner.
Along with the entire team at Patagonia, Rose has been an amazing friend and supporter of my work with Organic Insider. I will be forever grateful, and she will be deeply missed.
Max Goldberg, Founder
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