January 2022 Policy Update

January 2022

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Organic Regulations Moving Through Approval Process

Two long-awaited regulations that are needed to increase the integrity of the organic standards are moving through the rulemaking process. The Office of Management and Budget, a division of the White House that signs off on federal regulations, is reviewing USDA’s Origin of Livestock rule and the Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards rule.

Origin of Livestock Rule: The USDA National Organic Program (NOP)’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic dairy has allowed large-scale organic dairies to undermine those organic farms that comply with the intent of the organic label. In 2015, the NOP published a proposed rule to clarify that, after completion of a one-time transition from a conventional dairy farm, all new dairy animals milked on an organic dairy farm would need to be managed organically from the last third of gestation. The 2015 proposed rule garnered strong public support from the entire organic community, but was never finalized. In 2020, Congress gave the NOP 180 days to finalize the rule, but the agency missed this deadline. OFA and other organizations have been advocating for a final OOL rule that can be consistently enforced and that requires that the entire one-time transition happen over a twelve-month period under the supervision of an organic certification agency as part of the producer’s Organic System Plan.

Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards Rule: This rule is a new version of the long-delayed Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) rule. The OLPP rule was delayed and ultimately withdrawn by the Trump Administration. The new rule would allow USDA to consistently enforce stronger animal welfare standards on organic farms and close loopholes being taken advantage of by some large operations. The OLPP rule was discussed and vetted in the organic community for more than a decade and has widespread support. Animal welfare is an issue of critical importance to organic consumers, and these standards must be tightened to retain consumers’ confidence in the organic label.

After the OMB finishes their review, the USDA will have to make any changes required by the OMB and can then release the OLPS proposed rule for public comment and the final version of the OOL rule.

Northeast Organic Milk Update

OFA is still working with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify options for the 89 organic dairy farms in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and part of New York who were notified by Horizon Organic that the company plans to end their contract to buy their milk. Just before Thanksgiving, the groups met with Danone to lay out options for how the company could do better by the organic farmers in the Northeast who helped build their brand. In mid-December, the company announced it will meet one of the requests, by extending farm contracts to 18 months. The company will also provide a small (6% of the milk check for 6 months or $2 per hundred pounds of milk) transition payment for the affected farm families.

There are still many details to figure out for the impacted farmers and lots of work to be done to improve infrastructure for organic milk processing in the region. The contract extension will give the farms a little bit more time to investigate new paths forward, but what the region really needs is a sound market with more buyers for organic milk. OFA and our allies will continue to push Danone to co-invest in solutions for Northeast dairy infrastructure that will secure a future for Northeast dairy and provide local organic milk for the Northeast.

Congress Debates Climate and Social Spending Bill

With the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in the fall, the future of a second major spending bill is still up in the air as Congress starts the new year. The second package, the Build Back Better, is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes (which will be necessary because all Republicans have vowed not to vote for it). The House passed its version of Build Back Better just before Thanksgiving, and it includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The House package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms.

Now Senate Democrats have to find agreement on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocking the process over concerns about the total size of the spending package, as well as specific programs like the child tax credit. If the bill finally passes Congress, there will be lots of work to do to communicate with USDA about the details for spending this new money on conservation and research programs, and making sure that organic agriculture is on the list of practices that meet the goals of the Build Back Better bill.

Reminder – Apply for Additional Organic Certification Cost Share!

Organic producers can apply until February 4th for additional assistance for organic certification cost share. The additional funding for organic certification cost share comes from pandemic response money Congress provided to the USDA. In addition to providing additional funding for cost share, USDA has also created new opportunities for farms that are in the process of transitioning to organic certification to get some costs reimbursed.

This additional funding is necessary because reimbursement levels were cut in 2020. Since 2008, the federal government has reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. But starting in 2020 and again in 2021, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

Some details about the new program:

  • Organic certification cost share limits are 25% or $250 from this round of funding. This could be in addition to reimbursement provided under the normal cost share program (which means you could get up to $500 from the original program and an additional $250 from this new round.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time.
  • There are two new options for expenses that can get some amount of reimbursement (for either certified or transitioning operations):
  1. Educational expenses (such as conference registrations, reimbursable for 75% up to $200)
  2. Soil testing expenses (reimbursable for 75% up to $100.)

The application period for expenses from 2020 and 2021 closes on February 4th.

For more details on how to apply:

https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp


B-Corp Response Dismisses Public Concerns on Danone B Corp Violations

On December 16, 2021 after multiple attempts from the Organic Farmers Association to seek a response from B-Lab complaints against Danone North America submitted on November 8 and November 22, B-Lab responded with a dismissive response.

B-Lab Response to 2 Complaints Against Danone North America

From: Standards Management <standardsmanagement@bcorporation.net>
Date: Thu, Dec 16, 2021 at 8:32 AM
We appreciate your patience in our response, and thanks to you and the petition signatories for playing your role in the accountability mechanisms established as part of the B Corp Certification process.  We take complaints against companies who have achieved B Corp Certification very seriously, and as such it sometimes takes more time than stakeholders desire to provide an appropriate response.

B Lab acknowledges and is deeply sympathetic to the fact that the farmers affected by this decision find themselves in a difficult financial situation that may affect their livelihood and well-being.  Certified B Corps are expected to make decisions with consideration of the impacts on stakeholders in mind.  While these decisions may still nonetheless lead to a potential negative impact on a particular stakeholder group, it is also considered how a company engages in ways to mitigate that negative impact to the extent possible.

Upon reviewing the information available, including the information shared in the petition, and considering the stakeholder concerns raised and the impact on affected farmers and communities, we have determined that Danone North America’s certification is upheld with disclosure of this situation required on its B Corp public profile in order to be transparent with stakeholders around the reasoning for and impacts of its decisions and document the management practices in place so that stakeholders can make their own informed judgment about its impact and the adequacy of measures taken. You may access the information required in their Disclosure Report on their profile here. B Lab will continue to monitor the situation, and if new material information arises related to the decision, a complaint process may be reopened.

For more context on our decision, a company must achieve a minimum verified score of 80 points in the B Impact Assessment in order to become a B Corp, which is designed to help measure and manage a company's positive impact across five key impact areas: governance, workers, community, customers, and the environment. The B Impact Assessment awards credit for specific, positive practices of companies to determine their eligibility for the certification, but does not stipulate or mandate specific individual positive practices.  For example, while the B Impact Assessment acknowledges as best practices, among other things, supporting small scale and local suppliers, maintaining long term relationships with suppliers (average tenure), and purchases from organic producers, these practices are not required components of the certification if, as described above, the company is meeting the overall score of 80 points.

In addition, B Corp Certification also includes a review of potential negative practices that may warrant further action or ineligibility for the certification, and has a complaint process designed to allow stakeholders to raise concerns about existing B Corps who may be violating the spirit of the certification. B Lab investigates material, credible, and specific complaints, with the possible outcomes of any complaint including no further action, additional transparency required, remediation required, or ineligibility for the certification.

B Lab uses feedback from stakeholders like yourself not only to determine whether or not an individual B Corp is in violation of the certification requirements, but also to inform the development of the certification requirements over time. We are currently undertaking a comprehensive review of the B Corp certification performance requirements and have recently gone through an extensive stakeholder consultation process regarding the possibility of additional specific minimum requirements as a component of the certification. There will be ongoing opportunities to submit feedback throughout this review. Further details can be found here.  Thanks again for your interest and engagement, and we encourage you to provide feedback to continue to improve our standards.

Best,

B Lab Standards Management Team


December Policy Update

December 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Reminder – Apply for Additional Organic Certification Cost Share!

In November, after many months of delay, the USDA announced that additional assistance for organic certification cost share is available. This additional funding is necessary because reimbursement levels were cut in 2020. Since 2008, the federal government has reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. But starting in 2020 and again in 2021, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

The additional funding for organic certification cost share comes from pandemic response money Congress provided to the USDA. In addition to providing additional funding for cost share, USDA has also created new opportunities for farms that are in the process of transitioning to organic certification to get some costs reimbursed.

Some details about the new program:

  • Organic certification cost share limits are 25% or $250 from this round of funding. This could be in addition to reimbursement provided under the normal cost share program (which means you could get up to $500 from the original program and an additional $250 from this new round.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time.
  • There are two new options for expenses that can get some amount of reimbursement (for either certified or transitioning operations):
  1. Educational expenses (such as conference registrations, reimbursable for 75% up to $200)
  2. Soil testing expenses (reimbursable for 75% up to $100.)

The application period for expenses from 2020 and 2021 closes on January 7th. OFA is working to get USDA to extend this deadline, but right now the deadline is January 7th, so apply as soon as you can.

For more details on how to apply:

https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp

Congress Debates Climate and Social Spending Bill

In mid-November, President Biden signed the long-awaited bipartisan infrastructure bill in law. The new law will fund major investments in the nation’s roads, bridges, public transit systems, broadband internet, energy grid and water systems. But this is only one of the major spending bills Congress has been debating for much of the year, and a second bill with funding for social programs, agriculture and addressing climate change is still in play. The second package, the Build Back Better, is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes (which will be necessary because all Republicans have vowed not to vote for it).

The House passed its version of Build Back Better just before Thanksgiving, and it includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The House package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms.

Now Senate Democrats are negotiating on their version of the bill, with key players like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) demanding changes to the bill on issues like clean energy programs and spending for social programs like childcare. The process of getting agreement within Senate Democrats will determine when (and if) this bill passes, and it looks likely that the process will drag on into the new year. If the bill finally passes Congress, there will be lots of work to do to communicate with USDA about the details for spending this new money on conservation and research programs, and making sure that organic agriculture is on the list of practices that meet the goals of the Build Back Better bill.

Organic Dairy in the Northeast

OFA has continued to work with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify options for the 89 organic dairy farms in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and part of New York who were notified by Horizon Organic that they would not be renewing their contract to buy their milk after next September. We have been participating in a task force convened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is about to send a list of recommendations for what the federal government could do to help to the Secretary of Agriculture.

And just before Thanksgiving, the groups met with Danone to lay out options for how the company could do better by the organic farmers in the Northeast who helped build their brand. Unfortunately, the company has not committed to taking any steps the groups recommended to either stay in the region or to compensate farmers who will lose contracts next year.

We will continue to work with our allies to let consumers know that Danone North America (which owns Horizon Organic) is not living up to its commitment to being a socially responsible company. You can take action here to tell Danone to live up to its social mission.

Advocating for Organic in the Next Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that Congress passes roughly every five years. The Farm Bill covers the broad range of programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including commodity support programs, agricultural conservation programs, trade and international food aid, domestic nutrition assistance (SNAP), farm credit programs, rural development, agricultural research and extension, forestry, horticulture, crop insurance, and a variety of other policies. The current Farm Bill became law in late 2018, and expires in late September 2023.

But even when Congress is not actively writing a new Farm Bill, there is still work to be done. In between periods of congressional debate on the text of the bill, advocates like OFA work to make sure that the USDA is implementing the programs created by the Farm Bill. For example, the 2018 Farm Bill instructed the USDA to establish new regulations to increase the department’s capacity to detect and prevent fraud in organic supply chains. The USDA is still working on finalizing these new rules, three years after the Farm Bill became law, and OFA and other advocates have been pushing the department to finish a strong rule as soon as possible.

Other important topics for organic farmers in the Farm Bill include funding for organic-focused research, as well as the organic certification cost-share program. And the Farm Bill can create opportunities for harmful changes too, such as past attempts to change the requirements for who can serve on the National Organic Standards Board.

That’s why OFA is starting a process to set our priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill. Even though Congress won’t pass new legislation until 2023, the debate over what should be in that bill has already begun and will pick up steam in 2022. To get ready, we are going to be reaching out to organic farmers and farm organizations around the country to get your input on what priorities we need to advocate for in the next Farm Bill.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has been hosting meetings with organic stakeholders in partnership with Dr. Kathleen Merrigan from the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. One meeting was for organic certifiers, one for national advocacy groups, one is for organic farmers and farmer organizations, and one meeting was open to all.

Organic Farmers Association will be co-hosting the national farmer meeting on March 2nd (Virtual). OFA will bring a grassroots effort to the national organic farmer meeting and we invite state and regional groups to engage your organic farmer members in a state-level conversation to identify their farm bill priorities. An organic farmer representative and staff/board representative from each organic farmer organization will be invited to the March 2nd meeting to represent their farmers’ priorities.


7,739 Organic Farmers and Consumers File Complaint against B-Lab Calling for Action on Danone North America’s B Corp Certification

November 23, 2021  Yesterday, 7,739 organic consumers and farmers submitted a complaint to B Lab (administer of the B Corporation corporate social value certification program) against Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic.  The complaint outlines violations the company has made against the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence.  These farmers and consumers are members and supporters of the eleven organizations that submitted a complaint earlier this month against Danone N.A./Horizon.  This is the first batch of signatures that will be submitted to B Lab.  Supporters can still sign on to the complaint here.

In August 2021, Danone North America notified all their contracted organic dairy farm families totaling 89 families in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and a portion of New York they would be ending their contracts and pulling out of the Northeast U.S. supply chain to redirect their supply chain around their processing facility near Buffalo, NY.  Many of the affected farm families have provided organic milk to Horizon Organic for decades and have been instrumental in building that successful brand with grass-fed family-farm organic milk.

“The family farmers losing their contracts with Horizon Organic are struggling to figure out how to save their farms and homes in a time when there are few other organic dairy market opportunities, and we are still in a pandemic.  Nationally we have never experienced such a large number of contracts ended at once from a single organic dairy company, “says Nicole Dehne, Certification Director for Vermont Organic Farmers.  “In Vermont, organic dairy is 28% of our state’s dairy economy and these farmers are incredibly important to our food supply as well as our rural economies. The organic community asks B Lab to take action.”

The northeast region embodies the family-scale, grass-based, organic dairy farms, organic consumers expect to be supplying their milk.  “NOFA-NY has worked with Horizon Organic for decades and many of our farmers have supplied Horizon milk for the duration of that time.  We want Danone to value the whole northeast region, invest here, and create a future for northeast organic dairy farmers.  New York has one of the largest consumer markets, and you can see by the number of people who care about this, local organic dairy is important to northeast consumers,” says Katie Baildon, Policy Director, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

B Corporations have made a commitment to work towards reducing inequality, lowering poverty, creating a healthier environment, building stronger communities, and creating more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose. The B Corp label tells consumers that the company has created a positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment.  Danone North America’s action in the Northeast goes against all of these principles, and B Lab must take action, or the B Corp label is in jeopardy of losing its integrity.  Regional producer groups representing the affected farmers met with Danone North America last week to ask them to stay in the Northeast and invest in the region’s organic dairy farm families.  We hope B Lab will help them make the right decision.

###

Media Contact: 

Ed Maltby, Executive Director, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance
emaltby@comcast.net; 413-427-7323


11 Organic Organizations submit complaint to B Lab against Danone North America

November 8, 2021

Dan Osusky
Director of Standards, B Lab
15 Waterloo Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312

RE:  Complaint against Danone North America

Dear Mr. Osusky,

Eleven organic farm and consumer organizations, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc., Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Maine Organic Milk Producers, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Organic Farmers Association, Organic Consumers Association, Cornucopia Institute, and Real Organic Project, submit a complaint against Danone North America (Danone N.A.), owner of Horizon Organic regarding a violation of the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence. We request that the B Lab conduct a full investigation on this matter.

As you know, all B Corporations must commit to incorporating the following declarations into their business practices:

  • That we must be the change we seek in the world.
  • That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
  • That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
  • To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.

Complaint Details
In August 2021, Danone N.A.’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Horizon Organic, ended its contracts with 89 Northeast organic dairy farms.  These family farms had maintained their portion of their supply contract for Danone N.A., yet Danone N.A. ended these contracts simply because the farms no longer fit their “manufacturing footprint.” This massive exit by Danone N.A. from the northeast region has severely hurt these farm families and the region’s rural economy and is a direct violation of the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence.   Danone N.A.’s conduct must be investigated, and we recommend removing their B Corp status.  This corporate behavior diminishes consumer confidence in the value of the B Corp label.  If you do not take effective action, consumers will lose trust in your value-based label.  Recently nine organic organizations submitted a petition with over 15,000 signatures to Danone N.A. calling Danone N.A. to reverse their decision. The public is watching this egregious corporate action and highlighting the incongruity with B Corp claims.

Horizon Organic has supported the growth and viability of small, organic family farms in the Northeast region for over two decades. These family farms have helped build the reputation and value of the Horizon Organic brand and have contributed substantially to the bottom line of both Horizon and Danone N.A. The 89 farm families’ dairy farms are thriving independent businesses that make substantial contributions to their rural economies and communities.  Horizon Organic’s support of family farms, like the 89 in the Northeast, is part of the business model that put Danone N.A. in a position to qualify as a B Corporation.  B Corp meticulously outlines three areas of social responsibility in its mission statement that B Corporations must embody.  These include corporate responsibility to their workers, the communities they serve, and the greater environment. Danone N.A., by abruptly ending contracts with 89 family farmers, has directly violated each of these responsibilities and we implore B Lab to investigate and take appropriate action.

Profits over People
Danone N.A.'s decision to abruptly sever contracts with an entire U.S. region affecting 89 family farms was one based solely on maximizing profits, regardless of the devastating consequences for their suppliers’ families and rural communities. This action ignores the decades of corporate profits gained from the work of these independent dairy farms and the social reputational benefits they helped the company earn from consumers.  This abrupt action directly violates a commitment to conducting their business as if people and place mattered.  It also violates Danone N.A.’s corporate declaration to aspire to do no harm and benefit all through their products, practices, and profits.

Danone N.A.’s 2020 corporate revenue of $27 billion gives them the flexibility to have planned for a regional exit that treated the 89 dairy farm families as if they and their communities mattered.  They have instead chosen to cause direct harm to these farmers and their rural communities in favor of Danone N.A.’s corporate profits.   Choosing not to invest in their family farmers is in violation of their B Corp commitment of “balancing profit with purpose” and “using business as a force for good.”

Profits over Community
Having thriving organic farms keeps rural communities vibrant and supports healthier communities.  Farmers rely on stable relationships with their buyers to be able to make decisions for their farm business, make financial projections for farm investment and modernizations, and pay off farm debt.  Danone N.A. misrepresented their commitment to their stakeholder organic farm suppliers; their decision to abruptly end contracts with all 89 farms from a whole region demonstrates that they are not committed to an interdependency with their stakeholders and do not take responsibility for the future generations of their organic dairy farm families.

This action has affected and will continue to impact the communities that Danone N.A. had supported through decades of committed business partnerships.  When organic dairy farms spend their profits locally, it benefits the entire community. For every dollar a dairy farm spends locally, about $2.50 in wages and other business transactions are contributed to the local, rural economy. Independent family dairy farms also create jobs off the farm in related sectors like sales and service, animal health, nutrition, ag input suppliers, lenders, transportation, accountants, and agronomists.  Research has demonstrated that one New York state cow is able to spread an extra $15,000 in economic revenue. Removing 89 family farms from rural communities in the Northeast in one fell swoop will have a drastic impact on the economic viability of these rural communities and the urban communities they serve.

Profits over the Environment
Organic dairy farms are important to the Northeast environment and to climate change mitigation.  These farms conserve open spaces, establish wildlife habitats, filter clean water, and conduct effective long-term carbon sequestration, and return nutrients to the soil.  Organic farmers exceed dairy farm environmental regulations, managing their pasture, manure, soil, water, and cows to be a part of a healthy agroecological system. Danone N.A.’s exit from the northeast is leaving these 89 organic dairy farms without a market, families are likely to be forced to either sell the farm or sell into the conventional dairy market--losing many of the environmental standards maintained under organic certification.

B Lab Must Follow Through on the Credibility of their Label
We understand that Alexa Harrison, senior public relations manager at B Lab U.S. & Canada, emailed Organic Insider on 10/26/2021 with the following message:

"B Lab (the entity that oversees the B Corp certification) has reviewed this situation internally and found that Danone North America is not in violation of the B Corp standards. B Lab’s standards were created to provide a framework for continual improvement and evaluation of positive impact and negative risk of a company’s social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability throughout all aspects of their business. Our certification standards do not restrict a B Corp’s supply chain selections e.g. requiring a certain type of product from a certain type of supplier. Danone North America has been and continues to be a strong advocate for the B Corp movement, and while these decisions could impact a company’s score, it does not affect certification status."

We strongly encourage you to re-evaluate this decision with the evidence before you.  As consumers, Harrison’s response provides little confidence in the value of B Corp and its ability to ensure that its corporations stay committed to the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence.

B Corp claims that corporations operate in a framework of continual improvement of (social and environmental performance, transparency, accountability, etc.), which is why B Corp must make decisions on their members’ impacts on the supply chain, and violations of its declaration of interdependence.  When a B Corporation is clearly not improving but takes an action that harms those it has committed to treating with respect, B Lab must investigate and address those violations.  B Corp enforcement must be meaningful and set an example to other B Corporations of the seriousness of the social commitments the label embodies.

We call on B Lab to investigate and act on this decision by Danone N.A./Horizon Organic and send the message that B Corporation's status is credible and held accountable when a company acts in direct opposition to its B Corp commitments.  We encourage you to put Danone N.A.'s B Corporation status on probation until they reinstate the contracts of these 89 farms and invest in these communities that contributed to the success and social claims of Danone N.A.  If they will not do that, we ask that you revoke their B Corporation status.

Sincerely,

Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc.,
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont,
Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire,
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association,
Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance,
Maine Organic Milk Producers,
Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance,
Organic Farmers Association,
Organic Consumers Association,
Cornucopia Institute,
Real Organic Project

 

SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION

 


November Policy Update

November 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Organic Certification Cost Share

After months of waiting, last week the USDA announced its plan to provide additional assistance for organic certification cost share. This additional funding is necessary because reimbursement levels were cut in 2020. Since 2008, the federal government has reimbursed up to 75 percent of organic certification fees paid by organic farms and businesses, with a maximum reimbursement of $750 per certification scope (crops, livestock or handling) per operation. But starting in 2020 and again in 2021, USDA’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) cut reimbursement rates to 50 percent, up to a maximum of $500 per scope.

The newly announced funding for organic certification cost share comes from pandemic response money Congress provided to the USDA. In addition to providing additional funding for cost share, USDA has also created new opportunities for farms that are in the process of transitioning to organic certification to get some costs reimbursed. 

Some details about the new program: 

  • Organic certification cost share limits are 25% or $250 from this round of funding. This could be in addition to reimbursement provided under the normal cost share program (limited to 50% or $500.)
  • This new funding covers expenses from 2020, 2021 and 2022. You can apply for 2020 and 2021 at the same time (starting on November 8th.) 
  • There are two new options for expenses that can get some amount of reimbursement (for either certified or transitioning operations):  
  1. Educational expenses (such as conference registrations, reimbursable for 75% up to $200)
  2. Soil testing expenses (reimbursable for 75% up to $100.)
  • The application period for expenses from 2020 and 2021 opens on November 8th and closes on January 7th. The website below has details on how to apply through the Farm Services Agency and what additional paperwork has to be filed if you already got a cost share payment. 

For more details:

https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp

NOSB Meeting

In October, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) held its fall meeting, once again virtually because of the pandemic. The board heard two days of a public comment period and then conducted several days of their meeting, covering a range of topics. There were several key decisions made that will impact organic farms. One was a vote to prohibit ammonia extract, a high nitrogen fertilizer that was being petitioned for use but that the board rejected on concerns that it was not compatible with organic production. The board also voted not to allow the antibiotic kasugamycin to be used for plant disease control, and after years of discussion, voted to allow the use of biodegradable biobased mulch if it meets a specific set of criteria for compostability and what materials are included in the portion of the product that is not bio-based. The board also started an important discussion on potential ways to improve traceability in the organic supply chain as a way to help deter and detect fraud.

You can read OFA’s comments to the NOSB here.

USDA Considers Climate-Smart Agriculture 

The USDA recently accepted public comments on how the department should define “climate-smart agriculture,” how it should encourage adoption of climate-smart agriculture and how it should promote markets for climate-smart commodities. 

OFA weighed in to urge the USDA to base the definition of climate-smart agriculture on the already established infrastructure of the organic standards, but we also pointed out several ways that the organic standards must be strengthened to truly serve as the gold standard on climate including prohibiting hydroponic operations and requiring pasture-based livestock production. 

You can read OFA’s comments here. 

Congress Makes Progress on Infrastructure

In October, all of the action in Congress continued to focus on how to invest in the nation’s roads, bridges, public transit systems, broadband internet, energy grid and water systems through a bipartisan infrastructure package, as well as a second bill with funding for social programs, agriculture and addressing climate change. This second package is a “budget reconciliation” bill that uses a special procedure and can be passed only with Democratic votes. 

Late last week, the House narrowly passed one of these bills, the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Senate had already passed this bill earlier in the summer, so now the bill goes to President Biden for his signature. Meanwhile, the debate over the second bill, the Build Back Better Bill that covers climate and social programs, continues. The current version of the bill includes a big increase in funding for organic research as well as a historic $28 billion increase (over 10 years) for USDA conservation programs including the Conservation Security Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, with a focus on addressing climate change. The package also included a new program to forgive USDA farm loans for some small farms. The process of moving this bill is on hold while the final budget score for the bill is recalculated at the demand of several moderate Democrats. Once that process is finished, the House could then vote on the bill, sending it along to the Senate. 

Organic Dairy in the Northeast

This summer, Horizon Organic, which is owned by Danone, notified 89 organic dairy farmers in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and the northern part of New York that they would not be renewing their contract to buy their milk after next September. OFA is working with regional organic farm organizations and the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance to identify other marketing options for the impacted farms and to pressure USDA to strengthen the organic standards and make sure that large operations are not undercutting producers who meet high standards.


Organic Organizations and Consumers Call on Danone North America to Stand by Northeast Organic Dairy Farm Families

 

 

October 26, 2021  Today, nine organic organizations representing organic farmers and consumers delivered two petitions with 15,234 signatures asking Danone North America, owner of Horizon Organic, not to leave the northeast and leave 89 dairy farm families without a market (a national petition includes 13,020 signatures and a state-focused Maine petition includes 2,214 signatures).

In August 2021, Danone North America notified 89 organic dairy farm families that they would be ending their contracts and pulling out of the Northeast U.S. market.  They have transitioned all their milk procurement to farther west in favor of larger farms.  Many of the affected farm families have been providing organic milk to Horizon Organic (owned by Danone N.A.) for decades and have been instrumental in building that successful brand with grass-fed family-farm organic milk.

While Danone, North America has invested in new processing facilities along the eastern U.S. for plant-based milk, they have failed to invest in a dairy processing facility that would continue to serve the large Northeast organic consumer market with local organic milk.  While they claim they will be saving transportation miles by procuring milk closer to their western NY dairy processing plant, they will be spending more miles in trucking cartons of milk to the large Northeast consumer markets.

Organic groups have requested a meeting with Danone North America to ask them to stay in the Northeast and invest in the region’s organic dairy farm families who are making great contributions to the local environment and local economies by running grass-based organic dairy farms.

“We have already lost many northeast family organic dairies over the past five years due to pressure from large organic dairies taking advantage of a regulatory loophole.  This exit by Horizon Organic mimics what we see happening nationwide and leaves our rural communities without a local source of organic milk.  Danone North America as a B-Corp should hold a stronger commitment to the region and the communities that provide their milk,” says Ed Maltby, Executive Director of Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA).  “We hope to meet with them and discuss opportunities to keep them in the Northeast region.”

“Consumers are looking for organic milk from local organic farms that feed the local economy and protect the community’s soil, air, and water,” says Melody Morrell, Executive Director of Cornucopia Institute. “B Corp companies have a social contract with their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. We believe Danone/Horizon must reconsider this mass exit from the region.”

Northeast Organic Farmers Association of Vermont, Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New York, Inc., Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, Organic Farmers Association, National Organic Coalition, Cornucopia Institute, Real Organic Project together ask Danone North America to meet with the northeast groups to find a better solution for the affected 89 farm families.

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Media Contact:

Ed Maltby, Executive Director, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance

emaltby@comcast.net; 413-427-7323


OFA Testifies to NOSB: Fall 2021

 

 

 

Click here for OFA Submitted Written Comments:  Fall 2021

Below: OFA Oral Comments to the NOSB via Webinar Testimony:  Fall 2021

October 13, 2021

Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director

Thank you, NOSB members for the opportunity to speak before you today.  My name is Kate Mendenhall, I am the Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.  OFA was created to be a strong national voice and advocate for domestic certified organic farmers.  Our policy positions are created through a nationwide grassroots process that invites the participation of all domestic certified organic farmers and then our certified organic farm members vote on these policies.  We operate a strict one farm- one vote policy so all farmers have an equal seat at the table.

Today I will address three areas:  Public Comment Process, Ammonia Extract, and Sodium Nitrate.

Public Comment Process:   We have found a more diverse group of organic farmers able to participate in the oral testimony virtual format and encourage you to continue to offer this platform.  Without both the webinar and in-person oral comment opportunities it seems there is less time for comments, so we encourage you to keep this a priority of the NOSB process.  We also encourage you to adjust the rules for how comment slots are assigned to make sure that organic farmers have some priority to testify to the board.  Many of the registrations occur during high-farm production cycles and the oral comment slots often fill up weeks before the deadline- often with multiple people from the same company or organization.

Ammonia Extract Prohibition:  OFA recently adopted a policy position, which states:

“OFA supports prohibiting the use of ammonia extract for use in organic production because such use is incompatible with OFPA and good soil health practices.”

Therefore, we support the first two National List Motions: to add Stripped Ammonia and Concentrated Ammonia at §205.602, non-synthetic substances prohibited for use in organic crop production.

Sodium Nitrate:  We have testified before on OFA’s  policy position, which states:

Consistent with NOSB’s April 2011 recommendation, the Organic Farmers Association SUPPORTS re-listing Sodium Nitrate on 7 CFR 205.602 without annotation. This rulemaking action would make sodium nitrate prohibited in organic farming and eliminate the use of this soluble, plant-available fertilizer, which circumvents natural nutrient cycling in organic soil management.

Therefore, we support the Subcommittee’s motion to reinstate the listing of sodium nitrate at 7 CFR 205.602(g) - prohibited nonsynthetic. But wish it was more restrictive.

When we have discussed both Ammonia extract and sodium nitrate with our farmer-policy committee,  the larger topic about soluble nitrogen comes up.  OFA encourages the NOSB to review soluble nitrogen as a whole rather than addressing individual nitrogen products or forms.  Cultural management like preventative practices that limit the need for external and off-farm inputs for building a healthy agroecology system is a critical piece of building organic matter and good soil health.    Organic is a solution for climate change because we have demonstrated standards that celebrate and demand good soil health as an essential component of organic certification for decades.  We must protect that for the future of organic.

 

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October 13, 2021

Patty Lovera, Policy Director

My name is Patty Lovera and I am the policy director for the Organic Farmers Association (OFA). We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments and the time and energy Board members devote to this process.

Oversight Improvements to Deter Fraud and Improve Traceability

We are happy the Board is discussing oversight improvements to deter fraud and improve traceability. Dealing with fraud has been a top priority for OFA members since the organization’s founding. We provided more detailed comments in writing, but wanted to offer some general concerns:

  1. It will be important to ensure that any new traceability requirements do not create additional burdens on farmers who already do a lot of recordkeeping to be certified organic. Any new traceability requirements must ensure that farms are not required to use specific software, technology or other services beyond certification in order to comply, and paper-based systems must be allowed.
  2. The evaluation of new requirements should assess the likelihood that buyers will impose certain traceability practices on their suppliers.
  3. The NOP should also consider if technical assistance will be needed for farms or certifiers to comply with any new traceability requirements.

In response to Question 6 in the discussion document -- Are there additional areas that need to be considered for improvement to prevent fraud or react to fraud?:

We would say emphatically, Yes.

First, we need the Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule finalized as soon as possible.

NOP also needs to continue to coordinate with other USDA agencies as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection to leverage other agencies’ inspection resources at ports of entry.

NOP should develop investigative procedures that are triggered by import data, such as automatically starting an investigation when there is a significant surge in imports for a specific product category.

NOP should collaborate on enforcement (not just standards setting) with our trading partners. If a country we have a trade relationship with has taken enforcement action against a certifier or certified operation, that information should be shared as part of the trade relationship.

In response to question 7 --Should the industry require the registration of land 36 months before certification?:

Yes. In addition to allowing better audits that can detect fraud, this type of data could help current organic farms make better decisions about how to participate in their markets. We had additional thoughts in our written comments about the need for some flexibility in how this data is collected and presented to avoid creating a burden for farmers.

Proposal: Kasugamycin - petitioned

OFA urges the Board not to allow kasugamycin for plant disease control. Using antibiotics in organic production is contrary to consumer expectations, as organic marketing commonly states that no antibiotics are allowed in organic production. Antibiotic resistance poses a serious threat to human health, and use of antibiotics in agriculture contributes to that threat.