The USDA is readying new initiatives to support the growing organic agriculture industry in the U.S., agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack told the Organic Trade Association at a speech to its policy conference on May 14. “Organic is not the ‘same as.’ It is its own separate commodity and needs to be treated as such. I’m committed to that,” Vilsack said at the meeting.
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One popular announcement: The agency’s Risk Management Initiative (RMA) crop insurance program will increase coverage options, and in fact will entirely remove the 5 percent organic rate surcharge on all crop insurance policies beginning with the 2014 crop year. The RMA is also evaluating crops for organic price elections, with the intention of adding six to 10 more to the list of eight (corn, soybeans, cotton, processing tomatoes, avocados, and several fresh stone fruits) that already have premium organic price elections.
Vilsack also said USDA will be providing new guidance and direction on organic production to all USDA agencies in support of organic agriculture and markets.
It’s likely not coincidental that Vilsack made these statements as the produce industry is readying for the release of the produce regulation segment of the Food Safety and Modernization Act.
“Issues related to organic produce are going to receive a lot of attention in many sectors as the FDA considers what to do with the organic part of the produce industry in its upcoming regulation,” noted Robert Buchanan, PhD, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Food Safety and Security Systems.
Organic fruit and vegetable sales now represent over 11 percent of all U.S. fruit and vegetable sales, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Organic Industry Survey; 2010 sales were up by 11.8 percent over 2009 sales.