June Policy Update

June, 2021

By Patty Lovera, Policy Director

Origin of Livestock

In mid-May, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) opened a public comment period (again) on the proposed rule to update the Origin of Livestock regulation for organic. This rule needs to be updated to close a loophole in the organic standards that is being exploited by large dairy operations and the organic community has been working to fix this problem for over a decade. The NOP’s failure to strengthen the standards for organic livestock 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 has never been finalized. Now, after years of advocacy by the organic community, the NOP has released a revised proposed rule for public comment.

The comment period is open until mid-July. OFA will be submitting detailed comments to urge the NOP to make sure that conventional animals that are transitioned to organic using the one-time allowance are not transferred or sold as organic animals. And we will be urging the fastest possible effective date for this new rule. You can get more details to help you write your own comment here or sign on to OFA’s petition about the proposed rule here.

Climate Change and Agriculture

The debate on climate policy in Congress continued to be tied to the negotiations over the infrastructure package. Several bills related to agriculture and climate have been introduced in hopes that some pieces of those bills will be included in an infrastructure package passed by Congress later this summer.

The USDA is still working on its climate strategy and evaluating the input received earlier this spring in a public comment period. In May, USDA released a preliminary progress report that highlighted a long list of options they might include in their climate strategy without really narrowing the list down. There is a lot of debate, especially among Republicans in Congress, about what an appropriate role for is USDA in programs to pay farms for sequestering carbon – the options range from having USDA provide technical assistance and certification services for private carbon payment programs, all the way to USDA creating a “carbon bank” that puts USDA in the role of paying farmers for carbon sequestration and then selling those credits to carbon emitters. But while that debate rages on, one area where they does seem to be more agreement is expanding USDA conservation programs to promote climate-friendly practices. One bill that would encourage that, and that highlights organic as a climate solution, is the Agriculture Resilience Act. You can take action here to support that bill.

New USDA Officials

The process of filling USDA jobs for the new administration continues to move along. The Senate Agriculture Committee recently had a confirmation hearing for the nominee for USDA’s General Counsel, Janie Simms Hipp, who is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate soon. This is an important position for organic because the General Counsel is the top lawyer inside USDA who reviews new regulations, including organic standards, before they can be finalized.

And the USDA announced this spring that the nominee for Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs is Jenny Lester Moffitt – who comes from an organic farm in California!  The Under Secretary is responsible for several major agencies inside USDA, including the branch housing the National Organic Program. You can read more about Jenny Lester Moffit here.  We don’t know yet when she will be confirmed by the Senate, so stay tuned.

Take Action – Advocate for Organic This Summer!

Since the U.S. Capitol is still closed to the public, we don’t know when we can have organic farmers meet with their members of Congress in Washington, DC. But that doesn’t mean we have to wait to tell Congress what they need to do to help organic farmers.

Members of Congress will be home in their districts quite a bit this summer (most likely for the entire month of August), and they will be out and about trying to make up for the public appearances that were canceled last year. If you think you can attend a town hall or other public forum and ask a question about organic, let us know and we can help you get ready. Or if you want to try to meet with any of your members of Congress (or their local staff) in their local offices, we can help you set up an appointment and share OFA resources to bring to the meeting.