“But the farm products from a tiny minority of factory farms now being certified are at odds with the original intent of organic farming,” the project’s website says. “Unfortunately, these few factories produce a large and growing proportion of the food labeled organic on the market today.”
The alliance launched its Regenerative Organic Certification program in March. It, too, looks for an organic standard focused on soil health and ecological land management, pasture-based animal welfare, and fairness to farmers and workers.
And some farmers and food producers are using new technology to improve yields. For example, USDA is in the process of reviewing comments on labeling for foods that may be bioengineered.
Gwendolyn Wyard, the OTA’s vice president of technical and regulatory affairs, stands by the USDA as the standards-keeper for organic products.
“Unlike other eco-labels and add-on claims, the USDA Organic label is the only one that is backed by a federal standard, third-party certification and federal oversight,” she writes in an email response to questions from Food Quality & Safety. She says the standards provide full traceability from farm to table.
She adds that the OTA does welcome efforts to improve agricultural practices through standards development. OTA, she says, supports Rodale, for example, for recognizing USDA Organic as the foundation and baseline requirement for its regenerative organic agriculture standard.
“It is critical that add-on labels serve as a mechanism to support the organic standards rather than compete with organic,” she says. “The use of add-on labels should not devalue the organic existing standards and all the hard work that goes into the rigorous practices and certification requirements.”
One challenge for the organic industry under the current administration is a scale-back on the USDA’s efforts to engage in organic standards development, Wyard says.
“This is a challenge for the organic sector, and is also at the root cause for the add-on label schemes we see emerging,” she says. “Although the intent is valuable, multiple certifications, audits, and inspections are a perennial challenge, particularly for farmers.”
She says shoppers can get label fatigue with all the standards and become even more confused.
“The OTA stresses the importance of ensuring that additive certification schemes and label statements will not inadvertently confuse consumers and lead to a misconception that the organic standards do not cover fundamental requirements such as soil health and animal welfare,” she says.