The Organic Trade Association's Commodity Check-Off Proposal Raises Concerns for Organic Farmers

A number of concerns are being posed regarding a proposal by the Organic Trade Association to create a federal market order and commodity check-off program for organics.

| March 12, 2013

  • Mark Kastel
     Mark Kastel, the Senior Farm Policy Advisor for The Cornucopia Institute, says that corporate interests are pushing this proposal hard, and farmers know that other commodity check-offs have, all too often, been little more than economic Robin Hood-in-reverse programs.
    Photo By The Cornucopia Institute

  • Mark Kastel

Reposted with permission from The Cornucopia Institute. 

As organic farmers and enthusiasts begin gathering for the nation’s largest organic farming conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a number of questions and concerns are being posed about a proposal to create a federal market order and commodity check-off program for organics. The plan is being pushed by the Organic Trade Association (OTA), an industry lobby group dominated by large food processors, marketers and retailers.

The OTA plan would create a USDA market order to assess participants in the organic industry for promotion/marketing campaigns and research projects. The OTA estimates the proposal would raise an estimated $30 million. The allegedly fuzzy math detailing how the money would be raised and spent, and how producers would be represented on a governing board and assessed, has many farmers and organizations concerned.

"I am very skeptical regarding the creation of a USDA-appointed Organic Research and Promotion Board," says Jim Riddle, a former organic inspector and past chair of the National Organic Standards Board. "I am hesitant to support the creation of any new organic-related bureaucracy by the USDA. It takes a lot of money to support the bureaucracy itself, and the appointment process is easily manipulated by those with money and political influence."

Farmers are understandably skeptical because some research indicates many of the current market orders, and their marketing campaigns, like that "milk mustache," and the "other white meat" have not proven to benefit the farmers who are footing the bill.

Last year the OTA hired the Podesta Group, a high-powered Washington, D.C. lobbyist, to push for inclusion of their check-off plan by Congress in the Farm Bill. One major hurdle is that the organic check-off would apply across multiple commodities (from organic chicken to chicken feed to kumquats), something current federal law does not allow. The 18 established programs each cover a single type of food, such as beef, dairy, pork, eggs or watermelons.

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