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USDA Secretary Vilsack Responds to Small Organic Famers, Meeting Soon

BREAKING: The Biden administration just announced that it has nominated Jenny Lester Moffitt, a California organic farmer, to the position of undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs at the USDA.

When Tom Vilsack was reappointed to lead the USDA several months ago, there was a tremendous amount of grumbling within the organic community. The concern was that it would be another four years of pushing a pro-GMO, Big Ag agenda while marginalizing the needs of our industry.

Even though it is still very early and favorable regulatory actions have yet to be approved, there is reason to be slightly optimistic.

Just the other day, Secretary Vilsack communicated that he is willing to meet with small organic farmers and hear their concerns.


Last Thursday, during the public comment period of the spring National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting, a very unexpected and significant announcement was made.

In his comments, Francis Thicke, an organic dairy farmer from Iowa and a former NOSB board member, said that he and 41 other former NOSB members sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to address the litany of problems with the National Organic Program.

It said, “We are writing to share with you our concern that the integrity of the National Organic Standards has eroded significantly over the years……a lack of strong enforcement of existing standards has led to well-documented cases of fraud and an economic burden on organic operators who follow the rules, versus those who do not…… erosion of the Organic Standards is in violation of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and is undermining consumer confidence in the integrity of organic food.

The letter went on to address three main action items, all of which the NOSB had recommended:

1) Prohibiting hydroponics in organic, something that violates Section 6513 of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.

2) Publishing the Origin of Livestock Rule, which will close loopholes that have decimated small organic family dairy farmers.

3) Reinstating the finalized Organic Animal Welfare standard (formally known as the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule), which was withdrawn by the last administration.

It also called for the USDA to take immediate action in regards to the pasture compliance rule and measures to crack down on grain fraud, both of which have been inadequately pursued by the agency.

Within one day of sending the letter, in which the Real Organic Project’s Dave Chapman played a huge role in putting together, Secretary Vilsack responded to Francis Thicke and said that he wanted to speak with him to learn more of his concerns.

“We have had many problems with the USDA, but this is a new administration and Secretary Vilsack is even discussing climate change. He needs to understand that there are serious problems with erosion and enforcement of the organic standards, and unless that changes, the organic seal is in jeopardy,” Francis Thicke told Organic Insider.

Along with the items mentioned in the letter, another topic that will be discussed during the upcoming call will be the Real Organic Project (ROP), the add-on label that uses the USDA as a baseline but prohibits hydroponics and organic factory farms.

“We are absolutely not ready to give up on the USDA organic seal, but we want to let Secretary Vilsack know that we are going to protect organic and that means moving full steam ahead with the Real Organic Project. Already, consumers and brands are starting to recognize ROP as having more credibility in the marketplace than the USDA organic seal, and the USDA must be aware of this,” he continued.


The fact that we are writing about how Secretary Vilsack responded to the letter so quickly and that a contingency of small organic farmers is now getting a face-to-face meeting with him shows what a significant event this is — and just how unimportant organic has become to USDA leadership over the past two decades.

But what’s most troubling about this letter is that it had to be written at all.

Organic Insider will keep you informed about what transpires with this upcoming conversation, for which no exact date has been set yet.

With gratitude,

Max Goldberg, Founder

New Organic Products

New Organic Products

Cold-Pressed Coconut Oil Spray from Thrive Market

Made from organic coconuts ethically grown in the Dominican Republic, this cold-pressed, organic coconut oil spray from Thrive Market has a delicate, nutty flavor. It is bottled using natural air pressure technology, which means there are no additives or propellants inside the bottle.

Mac & Freak from Freak Flag Organics

Freak Flag Organics, which sells award-winning vegan pestos, as well as flavorful bone broths and condiments, has just launched a new line of mac & cheese products called Mac & Freak. It comes in four flavors -- Four Cheese, Kickin’ Kale Cheddar, Broccoli & Cheese, and Southwestern Cheddar -- and is available at Whole Foods Market stores nationwide.

Biodynamic Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Solspring

This Demeter-certified, organic, extra virgin olive oil from Solspring is exclusively produced on small Biodynamic family farms in southern Greece. It uses only fresh, hand-picked and cold-pressed Koroneiki olives. Unrefined and contains more nutrients when compared to other processed varieties.

Regenerative, Full Spectrum Hemp Products from Pocono Organics

Pocono Organics, one of the largest regenerative organic farms in North America, has launched one of the first regenerative, organically-grown, full-spectrum hemp product lines. Its small-batch items include tinctures, creams, salve sticks, oils and pet-friendly tinctures. Specially formulated to enhance bioavailability and ensure accurate dosing.
This Week's News Items

Weekly News Summaries

First Course
Supermarket News

Organic Produce Continues Growth, with Sales Up 9.3% in Q1

By Michael Browne

Eight of the top ten organic produce categories showed increases in dollars and volume, while overall category sales topped $2.2 billion for the quarter.

The Spoon

Misfits Market Raises $200M Series C, Will Expand into Proteins

By Chris Albrecht

With this funding, the company will be expanding its product offerings and opening facilities on the West Coast.

FoodBev Media

SunOpta acquires Dream and WestSoy brands from Hain Celestial

By Antonia Garrett Peel

In this $33M acquisition, SunOpta has further bolstered its plant-based product offerings.

Second Course

USDA May Allow Genetically-Modified Trees to Be Released Into the Wild

By Anne Petermann

An incredibly dangerous situation that the USDA would be well-advised not to allow.

PR Newswire

Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold now Brewed with 100% Solar Electricity

This certified organic lager is now brewed with 100% renewable electricity from solar power, the first beer within the Anheuser-Busch U.S. portfolio to make this distinction.

Food Navigator

Albertsons Warns of ‘Difficult Conversations’ with CPG brands if Inflation-Related Price Hikes Go Too High

By Elizabeth Crawford

Albertsons will accept – to an extent – price increases that several large CPG players have warned in recent weeks are coming down the pike.

Third Course
Modern Farmer

‘Megadrought’ in American West May Trigger First-Ever Water Shortage Declaration

By Dan Nosowitz

There are major implications for agriculture, especially in California.

Center for Food Safety

Up to 144,000 GE-Mosquitoes to be Released in Florida Keys

Something we wrote about last year, this is merely the prelude to up to one billion of these "insects" to be released over the next two years.


EU Scientists Press for Organic Farming to Allow Gene-Edited Crops

The campaign to ruin organic is real. And it's happening in the U.S. as well.

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This Week's Quick Hits

Quick Hits

* UC-Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes — a true hero — was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In his research, Professor Hayes concluded that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor that demasculinizes and feminizes male frogs, and he refused to be intimated by Syngenta, the company that harassed and tried to discredit him.

* The road to Regenerative Organic Certified.

* A replay of the Earth Day press conference hosted by Sun+Earth, the regenerative cannabis standard.

* The documentary Seeding Change: The Power of Conscious Commerce is now available on many streaming outlets.

* Boulder-based Scratch Kitchen must be one of the most organic virtual restaurants that exists in the country, having used 25,000 pounds of organic produce in the last year from just one kitchen.

* Congrats to Jyoti Stephens, VP of Mission and Strategy at Nature’s Path, for being named to the Clean50, which celebrates Canada’s sustainability heroes.

* In its 2021 Global Responsibility Report, General Mills highlighted that 70,000 acres are currently enrolled in regenerative agriculture pilots and 88% of its packaging in the U.S. is now recyclable.

* A look at why Once Upon a Farm transformed from an LLC to a Public Benefit Corporation.

* Gerald Herrmann of Organic Services GmbH on The Future of Organic Audits and Inspections: Digital or Not?

* Flying Embers has become the first hard kombucha and hard seltzer company to carbonate their liquids with naturally generated CO2 recaptured from their own fermentation, instead of CO2 created by the petrochemical industry.

* How Straus Family Creamery is helping to “power” BMW electric vehicles.

* My friend, Dr. Drew Ramsey, just released his new book Eat to Beat Depression and Anxiety.

* Thoughtful piece on how COVID-19 vaccines pose a challenge for the supplement industry.

* Very sorry to hear about the tragic fire that hit an Organic Valley creamery.

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