WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 18, 2021) -- Previewing his path forward for organic and pledging to elevate the significance and importance of organic agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary Tom Vilsack kicked off the Annual Membership Meeting of the Organic Trade Association on Wednesday.
Speaking live at the virtual meeting to over 250 members of the trade association, Vilsack laid out a forward-looking agenda for the organic sector, including a vow to resolve the ongoing issue over USDA’s failure to implement a critical and fully vetted organic animal welfare regulation.
The day after his comments to members of the trade association, Vilsack announced the department would draft a new rule that will address the Trump administration’s outlier interpretation of the authority of USDA regarding organic animal welfare regulations, and also disallow the use of porches for outdoor access in organic poultry operations.
The Organic Trade Association welcomed Secretary Vilsack’s acknowledgment that animal welfare belongs in organic, and birds belong outside. This has been in the Courts since 2017 when the Organic Trade Association took legal action to defend organic standards. The association said in a statement that it hopes that USDA’s acknowledgment facilitates a full and timely resolution of this litigation. The next court filing deadline is today.
Vilsack told members of the Organic Trade Association at the annual meeting that he appreciates the importance of the organic animal welfare issue. “We understand, appreciate the concern of getting this done, getting it done right, getting it done in a way that preserves the brand…I am committed and I committed our team to an accelerated approval process.”
Addressing positively the majority of the Organic Trade Association’s priorities for the Biden administration, Vilsack vowed to “build a solid trust foundation” between USDA and the nation’s organic farmers and stakeholders.
“I understand and appreciate, that we've got some work to do in rebuilding the trust between the Department and the [organic] industry. And I am committed to that. And those who work at USDA are committed to that,” said Vilsack.
Other actions Vilsack announced included:
• Working to finalize the Origin of Livestock rule in 2021;
• Re-establishing the position of USDA Organic Policy Advisor;
• Increasing by “tens of millions of dollars” the funds available through USDA’s Organic Certification Cost Share program to help farmers transitioning to organic;
• Expanding the procurement for USDA’s emergency feeding programs to “small- and medium-sized distribution systems,” and giving “socially disadvantaged producers” access to more federal procurement dollars;
• Significantly expanding processing capacity in the U.S. through a soon-to-be-announced USDA initiative to “provide resources that could be leveraged with state economic development, resources, private sector investment, and others” to build out processing capacity, boost competition and provide value-added products with more processing outlets;
• Beefing up organic enforcement and “expanding the number and the diversity of those who will be involved in inspections and certifications;”
• Prioritizing climate-smart agriculture and regenerative practices, and creating "new revenue streams for producers who are embracing climate-smart agricultural practices in a way that is beneficial to farmers.”
“We are working hard to protect the [organic] brand and to expand a number of issues and opportunities for the organic industry…all designed to provide a strong message of the significance and importance that I place personally, and that the department places on this industry,” said Vilsack. “We recognize the importance of it, we recognize the value-added opportunities that it presents, and we think it is an important-- a very important part of the industry that will help us to a much better, climate-friendly agriculture.”
White House Listening Session
Following the annual meeting, members had the opportunity to participate virtually in an off-the-record listening session with the White House. During the robust 30-minute session, members expressed their most pressing messages about organic. This included requests that organic have a seat at the table in any climate change discussions and solutions, that organic be included in farm-to-school programs, and that critical technical assistance be provided for organic farmers, particularly for those seeking to transition to organic.
Read Full Press Release Here
About the Author: The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is the membership-based business association for organic agriculture and products in North America. OTA is the leading voice for the organic trade in the United States, representing over 9,500 organic businesses across 50 states. Its members include growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants, retailers and others. OTA’s Board of Directors is democratically elected by its members. OTA's mission is to promote and protect ORGANIC with a unifying voice that serves and engages its diverse members from farm to marketplace. The Organic Trade Association does not discriminate on the basis of age, disability, national origin or ancestry, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation or military status. Persons with disabilities who require alternate means for communication of program information can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.