USDA to finalize rule expanding organic checkoff exemption

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2015 - Additional organic farmers and handlers will be exempt from paying into commodity checkoff programs under a rule being finalized by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.

The new rule, mandated by the 2014 farm bill, stipulates that producers and handlers of National Organic Program certified “organic” products, which must be 95 percent organic, and certified “100 percent organic” products are exempt from paying commodity promotion program assessments.

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The existing exemption applies only to “100 percent organic” products - as opposed to all certified and labeled organic products.

Organic producers and handlers who also sell conventional products may be eligible for the exemption under the new rule, which will be published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

“This is a significant and positive development for organic farmers and the organic industry,” Maggie McNeil, the director of media relations for the Organic Trade Association told Agri-Pulse Wednesday.

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“OTA is pleased that the organic sector will now be able to invest in its unique needs for organic research and promotion that are so critical to the future success of organic.”

USDA has estimated that the expanded exemption would save the organic industry $13.6 million.

In addition to exempting eligible organic operators from paying into the nation's 22 checkoff programs, the rule also exempts paying into the 23 federal marketing order programs.

OTA has been working to establish a checkoff program for the organic sector for over three years, and formally petitioned the USDA to create a promotion program in May.

Unlike other sectors' checkoff programs that limit promotional and research support to individual commodities, the organic check-off would apply to all food and fiber produced in accordance with certified organic practices.

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