Policy update from the House Ag Committee’s hearing

Update from Mark Rokola, Policy Director.

Trump Administration’s Department of Agriculture completed its first hearing before the Democratically controlled, House Agriculture Committee’s Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research Subcommittee “Assessing the Effectiveness of the National Organic Program” last week.

House Democrats invited Greg Ibach, Undersecretary of USDA’s Regulatory and Marketing Programs, which has jurisdiction over the National Organic Program (NOP), to join them in a public hearing to discuss the agency’s operation of NOP.

The hearing was the first public opportunity for the Agriculture Committee to engage with the Trump Administration’s USDA in a public discussion of its operation of NOP. Organic Farmers Association expects this to be the first step in a process to learn about the Trump Administration’s goals for the organic industry.

Under Secretary Ibach quickly pointed out in his opening statement the unique public-private partnership that is key to the success of this organic industry. He added that between October 2018 and March 2019, NOP received about 260 complaints and inquiries. NOP continues to meet its target of resolving 90 percent of appeals within 180 days of receipt.

Organic Farmers Association has been working with Subcommittee Chairwoman Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) staff to explain our members’ top policy goal of maintaining the integrity of the organic seal.

One of the top priorities for House Democrats was to better understand how an Administration that won its election on a de-regulation message and implemented an Executive Order of eliminating two regulations for every new regulation created, plans on creating new regulations to improve program integrity.

We explained to the Subcommittee Chair’s staff that organic regulations are different than other government regulations because they are voluntary.  Producers do not have to comply—only if they want to receive the organic label—so in this case strict regulations are needed and those being regulated are asking to improve the program to maintain consumer trust in the label.

On your behalf, we submitted questions asking USDA how it is managing its partnership with other federal agencies as it monitors organic imported grain.  We asked for details on how the agency is leveraging its partnerships with USDA’s Office of Inspector General and Department of Homeland Security’s, Custom and Border Protection (CBP) to build their resources to fight fraud through collaboration and training.

We also asked for details on how many trainings the NOP has held for CBP Center of Excellence and Expertise for Imports.

We encouraged USDA to provide details on increased oversight of pasture rule compliance for dairies—ensuring that dry matter intake from pasture is being measured just for milking cows to meet the 30% dry-matter intake requirement and that days on pasture align with the Natural Resources Conservation Service average county grazing days and exceed the minimum 180 days whenever possible.

USDA said they de-certified a satellite office of an international certifier this past May. Resulting in 180 farms not seeking re-certification. USDA also referenced their work at the Philadelphia port with APHIS to return a shipment of bell peppers that had been fumigated.

The Undersecretary said that USDA hopes to have an Origin of Livestock Rule to the interagency review group this Fall.  Congresswoman Pingree said it was acceptable the USDA would have a rule out in 2019 as the agency had all the information they needed. And, that a vast majority of the organic industry supports the proposed 2015 Rule that would remove loopholes for raising dairy heifers.

Keep an eye on future e-briefs or contact Organic Farmers Association for more details on the hearing.