COPAC Guides State Organic Program in New Directions

The California Organic Products Advisory Committee (COPAC) met in Sacramento on May 3 to discuss a range of organic issues.
California’s Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross made a flurry of appointments to the committee over the past few months, including appointing President of CCOF Certification Services, LLC Jake Lewin, to the new certifier seat on COPAC. All but one of the primary seats are now filled. A technical representative seat is still open.
COPAC advises the secretary on organic issues. Since passage of the California Organic Food and Farming Act last year, COPAC’s role is expanded beyond enforcement and now includes education, outreach, and technical assistance for organic producers.
Highlights of the May 3 meeting include:
  • Patrick Kennelly, Chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Food Safety Section, announced that this would be his last COPAC meeting as he will be retiring. Mr. Kennelly has managed the processor side of the State Organic Program (SOP) since 2004. Mr. Kennelly has been instrumental in ensuring the safety of organic processed products sold in California and in documenting the extraordinary growth of this sector, which has increased in value 154 percent over the past five years to almost $10 billion/year in gross sales. CCOF extends appreciation to Mr. Kennelly and very best wishes for a happy retirement.
  • SOP staff presented the results of the GMO Pilot Testing Program, which revealed that two of 23 samples tested 100 percent positive for GMO presence. In response, COPAC directed SOP staff to continue sampling and analyzing organic products for presence of GMOs, and to identify and investigate any positive results.
  • SOP staff are preparing a request for bids for an organic communications plan that will publicize the program’s work and bring more visibility to California’s organic sector. The bid request is projected for release in July.
  • The SOP has been operating on a surplus budget for many years and now has $3.2 million in its account. To access those funds, SOP must go through an administrative procedure. COPAC instructed SOP staff to go ahead with the “budget change proposal” process so that the funds can be used to implement the new activities being undertaken by the program.
  • COPAC voted to approve a 2016-17 budget for the SOP not to exceed $2 million.
  • COPAC is still working to find the right balance between collecting organic information through the registration process and easing the reporting burden on certified organic producers. The California Organic Food and Farming Act specified that SOP would only gather production information on six categories during registration. Due to concerns that useful data were being lost, COPAC approved a plan to gather information on 29 categories of organic products.
  • SOP is still working to develop systems that will allow certifiers to register their members directly with the program. In the meantime, every organic operation is responsible for ensuring that its state registration is up-to-date.
  • Open seats on COPAC seats are one technical representative seat and three farmer alternates, one processor alternate, one environmental alternate, two technical alternates, and one consumer alternate. To apply, contact Laurel Rudolph at CDFA.
  • COPAC’s next meeting will be September 6 in San Diego at the San Diego County Agricultural Commissioner’s office. CCOF will post advance notice of that meeting closer to the date.