WASHINGTON, May 25, 2016 - Stakeholders from the organic sector are in Washington this week hoping to drive home the big impact of what some might still view as a small industry.

The Organic Trade Association’s policy conference is expected to attract about 200 members who will be touting the sector’s economic significance, including a new report on local impacts as well as a survey released last week that showed sales of organic products topped $43.3 billion in 2015, a record and an 11 percent jump over 2014. Nearly 5 percent of all food sold in the U.S. was organic.

The OTA’s white paper issued this morning will push the local impact of “organic hotspots,” hoping to demonstrate a connection between overall economic health and organic production.

OTA Executive Director and CEO Laura Batcha defined those hotspots as “clusters of organic operations in counties surrounded by other counties that also have clusters of organic operations.” The object, she said in an interview with Agri-Pulse, is to educate members of Congress “about why they should care about organic policy issues when they do come up.”

Aside from the white paper, Batcha says the group is also keeping an eye on the appropriations process, specifically hoping to prevent any rider that would block the organic animal welfare standards recently proposed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. She said OTA is in “very, very active defense” against any rider that would prevent implementation.

“We believe that Congress intervening in the process by which voluntary regulations are set in the organic market is a very negative precedent,” Batcha said. She added that the regulations have been in discussion since 2008, and congressional intervention at this point would be “an aggressive, bold move.” She says there are “a lot of little things” in the rule that OTA will comment on, but she says the organization is committed to moving the rule forward.

OTA, which favors mandatory labeling of products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs), will also be lobbying lawmakers to keep any definitions in the legislation aligned with what is already on the books. In particular, Batcha said she wants to see organic and GMO definitions jibe with how current definitions in USDA’s organic standards.

“Then, you’re drawing a line at the same place all the time, and that is easier for the consumer to understand,” she said.

Aside from those issues, Batcha said OTA would continue to push the organization’s “top priority,” which is an organic checkoff. The program was authorized in the 2014 farm bill, but now the group wants USDA to get a proposed rule published before the end of the current administration. “Thankfully, Congress has already acted,” Batcha said.

Today, OTA will gather at the Newseum in Washington to hear from speakers including Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and members of Congress. Agri-Pulse’s own Philip Brasher and Spencer Chase will also be part of the program.

Hill visits and industry lobbying will take place tomorrow. Batcha says the group will “not limit ourselves to friendly faces” on Capitol Hill, but rather focus on the members in attendance as well as lawmakers from the top 50 House districts in organic production.


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com