Washington, DC—On November 16, 2023, Congress passed a bipartisan one-year extension of the 2018 Farm Bill.The Organic Trade Association (OTA) reported that the extension safeguards agricultural programs critical for organic, including the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) which received baseline funding in the 2018 Farm Bill. The extension maintains the oversight and enforcement activities of the National Organic Program and provides certainty to farmers as we move into 2024. OTA said the extension also provides funding for “orphan programs” that are important to organic but lack a permanent funding mechanism, including the Organic Production and Market Data Initiative, the Organic Integrity Database, and the National Organic Certification Cost-Share.
“Through our advocacy efforts and in collaboration with other groups who are concerned about fair competition and rising costs for farmers, we will continue to make permanent funding for the 'orphan programs' a high priority for the next version of the Farm Bill,” said OTA CEO Tom Chapman. “We thank the leadership of Chairwoman Stabenow and Chairman Thompson, as well as Ranking Members Boozman and Scott, however, Congress cannot take the full year to complete a new version. The Farm Bill charts the course for agriculture, and organic farmers need updated policy and the stability and certainty that the Farm Bill provides."
Organic animal welfare rule
In October, OTA celebrated the strengthening of organic animal welfare standards by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). OTA called the long-awaited action "a major win for producers and consumers who have steadily advocated for the more robust regulations." USDA's final Organic Livestock and Poultry Standards (OLPS) regulation creates clear standards for outdoor access for organic poultry including minimum indoor and outdoor space requirements, and further clarifies living conditions, healthcare, transportation, and slaughter practices to support animal welfare for all organic avian and mammalian livestock species, OTA said. Most importantly, according to the association, the rule clarifies that screened-in, enclosed porches do not qualify as sufficient outdoor space for organic chickens.
“The organic sector and organic consumers have been clamoring for stricter animal welfare standards for 20 years now, and the OTA and its members have spearheaded that fight,” said Chapman. “These new standards not only create a more level playing field for organic producers, but they ensure consumers that the organic meat, poultry, dairy and eggs they choose have been raised with plenty of access to the real outdoors, and in humane conditions.”
Current organic poultry producers have up to five years to implement the new regulations.
Bipartisan bill to ensure organic standards improve
OTA applauded the introduction of bipartisan legislation in Congress to ensure organic standards continuously evolve and improve. The “Continuous Improvement and Accountability in Organic Standards Act (CIAO) 2023” H.R. 5973 would hold the federal government accountable for keeping up with the needs and expectations of the dynamic organic marketplace, OTA said. The bill was introduced on October 17, 2023, by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Rep. David Valadao (R-CA) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). The bill would amend the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 to provide a streamlined and predictable process to review and revise organic standards implemented by USDA.
“Ensuring continuous improvement for organic is our highest priority in the 2023 Farm Bill, and this legislation goes far to address that objective,” said Chapman. “CIAO is the result of a broad coalition of farmers, industry, environmental and other organizations working together with Congress to ensure organic continues to be a dynamic opportunity for growth and able to meet the future needs and desires of both producers and consumers.”