USDA to Expand Organic Exemption to Federal Check-Off Programs

Comment period extended to February 17, 2015. Comment now.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently proposed a rule that exempts more organic producers, handlers, and importers from paying into conventional commodity check-off programs. The rule is open for comment through January 15, 2015, and is expected to become law next year.

The Proposed Exemption

The proposed rule includes significant expansions to the organic exemption from federal check-off programs. It allows split operations, e.g. operations with both organic and conventional production, to seek exemptions. It also expands the exemption to both the 100% organic label and to the primary organic label (95% organic). Previously, USDA reserved the exemption only for operations with 100% organic production and for the 100% organic label.

Additionally, the proposed rule will exempt eligible operations from paying into the portion of the assessment in federal marketing order programs designated for market promotion activities.

Why the Exemption Matters

Overall, the exemption covers 23 marketing order programs and 22 research and promotion programs. USDA estimates that not having to contribute to conventional check-offs will free up an extra $13.6 million for organic stakeholders to invest back into the organic industry.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) has advocated for this exemption as part of its overall effort to help organic farmers, ranchers, and handlers invest in organic research, development, and marketing.

“The organic sector is a fast-growing, distinct industry with its own unique demands for research and promotion,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of OTA, in a recent press release.

How to Weigh In

To submit your comment on the proposed exemptions, view OTA’s comment instructions. The deadline to comment is January 15, 2015. Because of the tight timeframe, OTA recommends contacting both Marni Karlin, OTA’s Vice President of Government Affairs/General Counsel, AND Laura Batcha, OTA’s Executive Director/CEO, if you have any questions, if you need assistance in filing your own comments, or if you would like to provide feedback on the proposed rule.