February 2023 Policy Update

February 2023

By Lily Hawkins, Policy Director

Strengthening Organic Enforcement Final Rule Released At Last!

National Organic Program enforcement and stopping organic import fraud have been top priorities for Organic Farmers Association members since our founding. After several years of advocacy, the new Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) rule was finally released in January, with an implementation date set for March 19, 2024. Our full 2020 comments on the rule can be read here.

The final rule is a long overdue step towards the robust enforcement needed to protect the integrity of the organic label and the economic viability of organic farms that rely on consumer trust in that label. It will address topics including: applicability of the regulations and exemptions from organic certification; National Organic Program Import Certificates; recordkeeping and product traceability; certifying agent personnel qualifications and training; standardized certificates of organic operation; unannounced on-site inspections of certified operations; oversight of certification activities; foreign conformity assessment systems; certification of grower group operations; labeling of non retail containers; annual update requirements for certified operations; compliance and appeals processes; and calculating organic content of multi-ingredient products. 

There is still more work to do to prevent fraud in the organic sector and provide a level and fair playing field for organic producers. OFA will continue to advocate before Congress to provide the National Organic Program (NOP) with the resources needed to increase the agency’s standards of training, information sharing, and other enforcement activities, and the authority needed to address fraud in domestic or international markets, such as stop sale authority. 

USDA Announces Assistance for Organic Dairy Farms

Organic dairy farmers are in crisis due to drought, market consolidation, and skyrocketing energy and feed costs brought on by unstable global markets and inflation. 

Organic Farmers Association (OFA) and allies have been calling on Congress to provide emergency financial relief to organic dairy farmers to help offset the high cost of production before more farms go out of business. Late last year, congress directed USDA to find sources of funding to help organic dairy farmers. USDA’s Farm Service Agency moved swiftly, and, in January, announced its plans to distribute funding. USDA’s full announcement is posted here.

The details of the new Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP) are still in development, and OFA is working with organic dairy farmers and allied organizations to stay abreast of developments and to advocate for a strong program that will deliver the  maximum payments directly and entirely to farmers. So far, USDA has said that the program will be administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency and will cover up to 75 percent of projected 2023 marketing costs for eligible organic dairy producers – targeting small and mid-sized operations.  

While this aid is desperately needed, the amount of money earmarked for the program will not be enough to make organic dairy farmers whole. New programs specifically tailored to address increased cost of production for organic dairy are still urgently needed as part of the 2023 Farm Bill, and OFA will continue working with our organic dairy farmer members and Congress to advocate for strong long term solutions for organic dairy.

Key Congressional Committees Finalized

This month, the 118th Congress finalized key committee assignments and subcommittee leadership.

The Democratically controlled Senate Agriculture Committee added two new Democrats. Senator Peter Welch (VT) served as US representative since 2007 and is known as an ally to organic farmers. This is his first term in the Senate. John Fetterman is also a newly elected Senator. He formerly served as Lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, and focused on the need to fight consolidation in agriculture and implement anti-trust policies in meatpacking during his Senate campaign.

The Republican controlled House Agriculture Committee has added a slew of new members, and  made some changes to its subcommittee structure. Organic policy will now generally come under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Nutrition, Foreign Agriculture, and Horticulture, chaired by Representative Brad Finstad of MN to chair. Some issues of importance to OFA, such as crop insurance and research will be covered by other subcommittees.

Republicans John Rose, Ronny Jackson, Marc Molinaro, Monica De La Cruz, Nick Langworthy, John Duarte, Zach Nunn, Mark Alford, Derrick Van Orden, Lori Chavez-DeRemer, and Max Miller have been added to the committee. And eleven new members were added; freshman legislators, Yadira Caraveo, Andrea Salinas, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, Don Davis, Jill Tokuda, Nikki Budzinski, Greg Casar, Jasmine Crockett, Jonathan Jackson, Eric Sorensen and Gabe Vasquez, as well as Elissa Slotkin, who is new to the Agriculture committee. There was intense competition for the remaining democratic seats, but House Ag veterans Chellie Pingree, Salud Carbajal, Darren Soto, and Angie Craig all came away with spots.

The subcommittee’s jurisdiction will cover trade agreements and commitments, agricultural export programs, and U.S. food aid initiatives; SNAP Oversight of commodity distribution programs, and Marketing and promotion programs related to fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops.

Farm Bill Hearings Continue

With committee membership largely decided, both House and Senate Agriculture Committees are getting to work on the Farm Bill.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has held two full committee hearings so far in 2023.One focused on Commodity Programs, Crop Insurance, and Credit, and one focused on Trade and Horticulture. You can view the committee calendar and see recordings of past hearings here.

Meanwhile in the House Ag committee, G.T. Thompsone held a listening session at the Pennsylvania Farm show in January, and the House Agriculture Committee held its first official meeting on February 8th.