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OTA Petitions USDA For Organic Check-Off Program

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Last updated on May 18th, 2015 at 03:06 pm

The Organic Trade Association (OTA), in collaboration with the GRO Organic Core Committee, formally petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to begin steps to conduct a research and promotion check-off program for the organic industry.

The OTA action reflects three years of dialogue with the organic sector and comes 25 years after Congress authorized USDA’s National Organic Program. The program could mark the first time in the 49-year history of U.S. agricultural check-off programs that organics could be recognized as a distinct commodity class based on production practices.

“The organic industry in America is thriving and maturing, but it is at a critical juncture,” said Laura Batcha, OTA’s executive director and CEO. “Many consumers remain unaware of what that organic seal really means. Organic production in this country is not keeping pace with the robust demand. An organic check-off program would give organic stakeholders the opportunity to collectively invest in research, build domestic supply and communicate the value of the organic brand to advance the entire industry to a new level.”

The proposal estimates the organic check-off, referred to as GRO Organic (Generic Research and Promotion Order for Organic), could raise more than $30 million a year to advance the organic sector.

The check-off program highlights include:

• The Check-off Board would be made up of 50 percent producers and 50 percent handlers;

• Producers will directly select their regional representatives through direct balloting;

• A referendum is required every seven years to decide whether or not to continue the program;

• Organic producers would have the option of paying an assessment based on net organic sales or producer net profit, whichever they prefer;

• Farmers and handlers with gross organic revenue below $250,000 will choose whether or not to pay into the program;

• At least 25 percent of funds would be earmarked for research, including regional priorities. All of the research, inventions and innovations resulting from organic check-off programing would remain in the public domain; and

• After the USDA completes its review of the application, an official proposal for an organic research and promotion check-off program will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period.

The final step will be a referendum on the proposed check-off, with all certified organic stakeholders eligible to vote. Approval by a majority of the organic stakeholders voting is required for implementation.

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