The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is set to terminate its rulemaking for the organic checkoff, stopping a process that officially began almost exactly three years ago.

The order came by way of a Federal Register notice, and the termination will be effective on Tuesday. In the notice, AMS cited “uncertain industry support” and “outstanding substantive issues with the proposed program” as its reasons for termination.

“While some comments voiced support for a collective industry program, other comments stated that industry was not aligned in backing the proposal,” AMS noted. Specifically, AMS pointed to concerns about eliminating organic farmers from the program, a potential disproportionate impact on high-value commodities, concerns about the voting methodology, and whether the program could exist without disparaging other commodities.

However, the Organic Trade Association thinks the department’s assertion of uncertain support is “simply wrong.” In a release, the group said the decision “reflects a pattern of holding back forward progress on organic by USDA” and that it “makes no sense that the agency is continuing to take steps to cut it off at the knees.”

“This announcement comes within days of a smiley face GMO disclosure logo, which is bound to cause confusion for consumers and reveals that USDA is not being even-handed,” Laura Batcha, OTA executive director and CEO, said, alluding to the proposed bioengineered ingredient disclosure rule published earlier this month.

Laura Batcha, OTA

Laura Batcha, Organic Trade Association

“There is no question we need promotion for organic as consumers continue to demand food transparency,” she added.

The checkoff would have been unique in that it would have served as a research and promotion arm for many different products rather than a single commodity.

With the rulemaking terminated, communication restrictions are lifted, which AMS says will allow USDA “to engage fully with all interested parties to discuss and consider the future needs of the industry.”

OTA says it is “unfathomable” that organic stakeholders won’t have a chance to vote on the checkoff on their own. The vote would have been necessary for the checkoff to be created in the first place.

Now, the organization says it will “will fully assess opportunities through the private sector to advance innovative solutions that will have important and long-lasting benefits for organic farmers, businesses and consumers alike, as we face the reality, once again, that government is not willing to keep pace.”

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