If you have become increasingly concerned about the integrity of organic, rest assured that help is on its way.
And the solution is coming from the private sector, instead of Washington, D.C.
Last week in Vermont, the Real Organic Project released its proposed standards and unveiled plans for its pilot program, which will take a farmer-driven approach to restoring organic standards to the level that consumers expect.
The Real Organic Project, which will be an add-on label and has no intention of replacing the current USDA organic seal, aims to be nothing more than what the USDA’s National Organic Program originally intended it to be before money and influence played a role in weakening standards and enforcement. In other words, it will take the current USDA organic certification and fill in the gaps, in terms of both standards and enforcement.
The people behind the Real Organic Project will be crucial to its success, and these individuals have tremendous credibility in the organic movement. Out of the organization’s 45 members who serve on its three boards – executive, standards, and advisory — 28 are farmers, five are current members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), eight are former NOSB members, and eight have PhDs in soil science.
KEY AREAS OF CONCERN
Hydroponics and organic “factory farms” are the two main issues that the Real Organic Project is tackling — two areas that the USDA either refuses to address or may not have the political will to do so.
In January, the USDA declared that hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic growing systems are allowed in organic. These three growing systems are a complete violation of Section 6513 b-1 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
Section 6513 b-1 says that:
An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.
Even though the USDA announced that it will conduct unannounced visits to high-risk dairies, there is tremendous skepticism that this initiative will get rid of the organic factory farms.
If the USDA were truly serious about this, it would re-open the case against Aurora Dairy and explain why this investigation was closed with no reasonable explanation.
Furthermore, industry watchdog organizations, such as The Cornucopia Institute, do not believe that it is physically possible for Aurora’s 15,000-cow herd to meet the grazing requirements as established within organic rules.
SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF THE PROGRAM
The Real Organic Project will begin its pilot program this summer and intends to have 50 farms certified by the end of 2018. Also, it will have fruit, vegetable, grain, nut, seed and livestock farms in its program.
Inspections will take place in the beginning and then once every five years after that. What is noteworthy about these inspections is that each will result in a three-minute video which will then be posted on the organization’s website for everyone to see — an innovative and phenomenal idea.
Since the Real Organic Project will be an add-on label and will require that operations be USDA certified organic, the regular organic inspectors of these operations will be doing their normal yearly inspections. If fraud is suspected, the Real Organic Project will conduct more frequent inspections.
There are three important things to understand about the Real Organic Project.
1) It is a not a competitor to the Regenerative Organic Certification
Many people, myself included, had speculated that the Real Organic Project and the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) were competitors. However, this is absolutely not the case.
“ROC is not a competitor. They are an ally, and we support them. ROC is more aspirational, and they are describing a form of agriculture we are all aspiring to be. However, most of the farmers I know just aren’t there yet. The Real Organic Project is certifying to the standard which most organic farms already meet, and we are recreating the platform for what organic farming stands for,” said Dave Chapman, a long-time organic farmer and the lead spokesman for the Real Organic Project.
2) It is not intending to certify processed goods
The Real Organic Project has no intention of certifying processed goods or co-packing facilities, just farms. This will be a farmer-driven and farmer-focused certification.
Given that many organic food CEOs have told me they are suffering from certification fatigue, this should be welcome news.
3) It wants to create an educated community, not a brand
According to Dave Chapman, the Real Organic Project wants to create a strong, educated community and not a brand, which can be taken over.
“We want people to know where food comes from, how it is grown and why this is important. We are doing this for the common good because this is what we all believe,” he said.
If organic consumers understood that their tomatoes are being grown in water or that cows are not given adequate access to pasture, they would demand otherwise. The reality is the most consumers are just not aware of this information. The Real Organic Project intends to change that.
While The Real Organic Project is going to be farmer-driven, I also believe that consumers and brands are going to play a crucial role in its success as well. How?
As consumers become educated about the Real Organic Project, these products should command a premium to those that have USDA organic certification alone. Demand for these products should grow, encouraging more farmers to get the certification.
Furthermore, brands may want to market their products as having ingredients that have been certified by the Real Organic Project, which will create differentiation in the marketplace.
“What became clear in Jacksonville (where the NOSB voted to keep hydroponics in organic) was that we can’t bring back the USDA. There is too much money involved — the billions invested in organic factory farms and hydroponics operations. They run that shop. Even though we have allies there, we don’t have control, so we will do it ourselves,” said Dave Chapman.
While the Regenerative Organic Certification may go above and beyond organic standards, the Real Organic Project is going to ensure that organic is what farmers and consumers expect.
And that should make us all very encouraged.
Have a great day!
Max Goldberg, Founder
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* As you may very well know, Bayer’s impending acquisition of Monsanto means that the Monsanto brand will no longer exist.
The Center for Food Safety’s Bill Freese gives an in-depth (and unsettling) analysis of the future of farming after the Bayer/Monsanto merger.
* Entrepreneur Magazine takes a look at what motivated Hollywood actress and Once Upon a Farm co-founder Jennifer Garner to get into the organic food space.
* In Los Angeles, there is now durian pizza.
* The two dining venues at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, are touting their organic, ethical and transparent menus.
* On Living Maxwell, I discuss why organic almonds are a MUST — because of the super-toxic fumigant propylene oxide.
Also, if you have not submitted your comments to the USDA about its deceptive and misleading GMO-labeling standards, you can do so HERE.
* I will be at BevNET Live tomorrow in New York City, and if you’d like to follow along, I’ll be posting videos on Instagram Stories.
* Lastly, Rodale Institute has announced the three winners of this year’s Organic Pioneer Awards and congratulations goes to Arran Stephens, founder and Co-CEO of Nature’s Path; scientist William Liebhardt; and 3rd generation organic farmer Mas Masumoto.
The 2018 Organic Pioneer Awards dinner will be held at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania on September 8th from 6-9PM EST. There is also programming and farm tours during the morning and afternoon if you’d like to make a full day of it.
I went last year to the Awards Dinner and had a farm tour of Rodale for the first time, and it was one of the most special days in all of my years covering the organic industry.
Rodale is the birthplace of organic in the U.S., and for those of us who care deeply about organic, it is our home. I will be attending again in September and strongly suggest others go as well. It will be a very memorable day.