After seven years as chief executive, Laura Batcha plans to leave the Organic Trade Association next spring as the industry enjoys record food sales. With sales of $56.5 billion last year, certified organic food accounts for nearly 6 percent of the total U.S. grocery market.
A series of four workshops beginning on Oct. 27 will focus on the future of organic production in the United States, said the Organic Trade Association and the Swette Center at Arizona State University on Wednesday. "We need everyone seated at the table to successfully plot the next 30 years of organic," said Swette Center director Kathleen Merrigan.
The USDA official overseeing organic agriculture said the sector, which rejects GMO crops along with the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, might benefit from gene-edited varieties. “There is the opportunity to open the discussion,” said Agriculture Undersecretary Greg Ibach.
Four months after the Trump administration killed a proposal for a mandatory checkoff program for organics, the industry’s largest trade group said it would move forward with a voluntary checkoff to promote organic food and products.
On one of the last days before USDA can carry out its plan to kill the organic livestock rule, the organic food movement put a full-page ad in the Washington Post, asking Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to drop the idea. The USDA announced in mid-December that it lacked statutory authority to implement the rule, which was a decade in the making, and set a 30-day comment period before it would withdraw the regulation.
First, the Trump administration delayed the so-called GIPSA rule on fair play in livestock marketing. Now, it is issuing a similar six-month delay of a regulation setting nationwide animal welfare standards for organic livestock and asking if it would kill the rule, re-write it or let it take effect. The actions raise questions about the future of a proposed organic checkoff program. All three initiatives were among the final Obama-era acts at USDA.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack hopes that new proposed organic regulations for animal welfare will be complete before President Obama leaves office in January, but isn't sure. “I’m hopeful that we get them done,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a report by Harvest Public Media. “I can’t guarantee that they’ll get done, but I’m hopeful they get done.”
The industry proposal for a checkoff program to support organic food and products is moving so slowly at USDA that the Obama administration will probably leave office before producers vote on it. The Organic Trade Association submitted its proposal in May 2015 and as recently as this summer hoped for a referendum this year to establish the producer-funded research and promotion program.