Oct 21, 2023
House bill would protect organic industry’s future

Despite the chaos of the U.S. House of Representatives, a bipartisan effort is underway to ensure organic standards continuously evolve and improve.

H.R. 5973, the Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (CIAO) 2023, is bipartisan legislation designed to hold the federal government accountable for keeping up with the needs and expectations of the dynamic organic marketplace, according to a news release.

USDA National Organic Program logo seal  The bill was introduced on Oct. 17 by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME).

The legislation would amend the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to provide a streamlined and predictable process to review and revise organic standards implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It would enable the improvement and advancement of organic to forge ahead into the future.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) applauds the introduction.

“Ensuring continuous improvement for organic is our highest priority in the 2023 Farm Bill, and this legislation goes far to address that objective,” Tom Chapman, OTA’s CEO and executive director, said in the release. “CIAO is the result of a broad coalition of farmers, industry, environmental and other organizations working together with Congress to ensure organic continues to be a dynamic opportunity for growth and able to meet the future needs and desires of both producers and consumers.”

The coalition supporting the legislation reflects the largest organic coalition in recent history spearheaded by OTA, and includes the National Organic Coalition which is made up of more than a dozen farmer organizations, non-profit consumer, environmental and animal welfare organizations, and organic businesses and certifiers; the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance which is a national coalition of more than 200 organizations representing growers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery plants and other products; the Organic Famers Association and the OTA.

Organic Trade Association OTA logoThe bill requires the USDA to review and revise national organic standards “not less frequently than once every five years.” It highlights the continuation of the established process of consultation with the National Organic Standards Board and input from the public. It states that in proposing any revisions, the USDA and the National Organic Standards Board “shall consider the best available information, including environmental and ecological data, consumer and market data, current organic production and handling practices, current organic research, and scientific data.”

Since the first nationwide organic standards were officially established in 2000, the comprehensive network of federal requirements and regulations that monitor and check the organic industry supply chain have been transparent, and voluntarily powered and driven by organic farmers and businesses and the organic community. This unique private-public partnership has made the organic regulatory system the gold standard for food and agricultural systems around the world, according to the release.

The organic sector has thrived under the system, growing to more than a $67 billion market in the U.S., with the USDA Organic seal one of the most trusted consumer labels. However, unregulated labels in the grocery aisles continue to proliferate, sometimes causing confusion among consumers and threatening to weaken the confidence in the USDA Organic label, according to the release.

“The federal regulatory apparatus has fallen behind the evolving organic sector and the market in the last several years and has slowed innovation and continuous improvement within the industry,” according to the release.  “OTA and other stakeholders in the organic industry recognize USDA needs the right tools to continue to be more responsive to organic producers and provide the right regulatory framework to assist and maximize the growth of the industry.”

“CIAO is an important step forward in recognizing USDA must continue to evolve the standards as new information, practices, and market forces arise. Organic is a growing and very dynamic industry and new best practices and opportunities are appearing every day because of investments in research and other adaptions. CIAO allows USDA to carefully consider and solicit input and work to update those standards in a thoughtful and predictable fashion” Peter Mihalick, OTA’s senior director of government affairs, said in the release.

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