Wins on Organic Research, Import Enforcement in 2018 Farm Bill

Wins on organic research, import enforcement in 2018 Farm Bill are shadowed by changes to the National Organic Standards Board

Washington, D.C. – December 11, 2018— Yesterday Congress released the text for the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or the 2018 Farm Bill, a large omnibus bill that deals with agriculture, conservation, food assistance programs, and many other aspects including funding and authority to advance organic programs.

The bill has big wins for organic farmers and consumers, including provisions that will help safeguard organic integrity and generate jobs, economic growth, and environmental benefits in communities across the United States. The National Organic Coalition would like to express our appreciation to Senators Roberts (R-KS) and Stabenow (D-MI), and Representatives Conaway (R-TX) and Peterson (D-MN) for their leadership in advancing the bill, as well as to the many organic champions in Congress who were instrumental in advancing organic agriculture in this legislation.

The bill, however, contains deeply troubling provisions that impose statutory changes on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the USDA advisory board responsible for keeping toxic substances out of organic production and processing. NOC stands in strong opposition to these NOSB provisions.

“The National Organic Coalition is a leader on issues of organic integrity, with coalition representation from a full spectrum of diverse stakeholders from different regions and sectors of the organic community,” said Abby Youngblood, Executive Director of the National Organic Coalition. “The boost in funding for organic research and the provisions enhancing organic import enforcement are cause for celebration in the organic community. Our coalition members are deeply disturbed, however, by two provisions that undercut the work of the National Organic Standards Board. Our coalition will continue to fight to reverse policies that undermine the transparency, high integrity, and full participation in the organic standards setting process.”

Here are the top priorities advanced by NOC that were included in the 2018 Farm Bill:

• The bill includes a historic boost for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and increases funding to “baseline” status ($50 million annually) by 2023, which will help ensure the continuation of this program beyond the life of the current Farm Bill. The cutting-edge research conducted through the OREI program helps farmers become more productive, efficient, and profitable and leads to the development of new agricultural practices that can be used by conventional and organic farmers alike.

• The bill continues funding and authority for the organic certification cost-share program, a program that provides partial reimbursement for rising organic certification costs and is especially important for small and mid-size operations.

• The bill expands resources and authorities for organic import enforcement, which will bolster the USDA and organic community’s efforts to deter fraud in the organic sector.

• The bill provides $5 million in funding for organic data collection efforts. This data is vital to policymakers, researchers, and industry participants alike to maintain stable markets, create risk management tools, track production trends, and curb fraud in the organic sector.

NOC is excited to continue our collaboration with USDA to implement these new funds and policies to advance organic agriculture.

NOSB Provisions Erode Integrity of Organic Program

NOC is deeply appreciative of the work done by Congressional organic leaders to fend off many proposed changes to the NOSB that would have weakened the Board’s structure and authority. Two of the provisions initially included in the House-passed bill and opposed by NOC have been removed from the Final Farm Bill Conference Agreement. NOC is deeply disheartened, however, that two provisions remain in the final bill, and we have expressed our vocal opposition to these provisions throughout the process.

One of the NOSB provisions in the final bill allows for employees of farm companies to sit in farmer seats on the Board. This provision could dilute the voice of the independent organic farmers and favor the interests of large organic production companies. NOC will continue to advocate for the nomination of independent organic farmers to NOSB farmer seats and will actively engage in the Board’s transparent and public process to ensure that family farms are represented in NOSB decisions.

A second provision contains unnecessary and confusing language about NOSB voting procedures that govern decisions about which synthetic materials are allowed in organic production and processing. NOC opposes this language or any efforts to weaken the voting procedures of the Board or make it easier to retain harmful materials in organic production and processing.

NOC will soon release a detailed score card to rate the 2018 Farm Bill on organic priorities.

This bill represents a significant step forward for organic agriculture in multiple arenas and is a good first step. The bill also includes increased support to assist beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers, provisions that improve land access for future generations, funding to increase access to healthy food, and expansion of local and regional markets critical to organic producers. Much more can be done, however, to advance policies that benefit family farms, communities, health, the environment, and the changing climate. NOC looks forward to working with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees in coming months to further address the needs of farmers and rural communities, many of whom are in crisis. NOC envisions future farm policies that go beyond the current status quo to create healthy, climate-smart, thriving, and sustainable food production systems and communities.