The Organic Trade Association (OTA), as part of its All Things Organic Conference Track, hosted a session at Expo East on the state of the organic industry. A panel of speakers provided updates on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and other issues. The panel included moderator Samuel Fromartz, editor in chief of the Food and Environment Reporting Network; Doug Crabtree, farmer and co-owner of Vilicus Farms; Anne Alonzo, administrator of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service; Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group and Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of OTA.
Four new people were appointed to the NOSB, the 15-member volunteer advisory board that shapes organic policy. Ashley Swaffer of Fayetteville, AR, fills a seat held for a producer or farmer on the board. Swaffer is director of special projects at Arkansas Egg Company. Tom Chapman, Belmont, CA, fills the open organic handler seat. Chapman serves as sourcing manager for ingredients at Clif Bar and Company. Lisa de Lima, Gaithersburg, MD, vice president of grocery for MOM’s Organic Market, will occupy the retailer seat for NOSB. The environmental protection and resource conservation seat was given to Paula Daniels, Los Angeles, CA, senior advisor on food policy for Los Angeles and a writer and teacher on food policy. The new members will serve five year terms starting in 2015.
There were many other updates and perspectives shared by the panelists:
• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released revisions to FSMA with which Alonzo said the organic industry is pleased. The relevant changes include regulations on manure and compost, water testing, and the packing and distributing of food on small farms.
• “We are in such a great place when it comes to agricultural exports and gaining access to other markets,” Alonzo said, citing the Department of Agriculture’s work to open up new markets through organic equivalency agreements.
• Fruits, vegetables and dairy still represent over half of the organic marketplace, Alonzo told attendees.
• The consumer base for organic food is growing more diverse, which is a good sign for the market. Some newer organic buyers, for instance, are less affluent and educated than the traditional organic shopper.
• A recent video put out by Only Organic distinguishing organic from “natural” garnered over six million views on the Internet.
• “I’m not in favor of more antibiotics in organic, and I’m not aware of anyone who is,” said Cook. But, he followed, NOSB’s decision to no longer allow antibiotics in the fight against fire blight, which has devastated apple and pear orchards, has the potential to “harm organic from within” by driving farmers from the industry. The allowable use of antibiotics by organic farms was set to expire October 21, 2014.
• “I see the two systems, organic and non-organic agriculture, continuing to diverge at an accelerating rate,” said Crabtree. The two approaches to producing food are simply too philosophically opposed, he argued. Crabtree said the industry’s goal should be to add organic farmers by lowering the cost and difficulty of entering the organic industry.
Expo East 2014 Coverage
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, November 2014