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The USDA Organic Check-Off 2014

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is continuing its self-styled ‘discussion’ of establishing a federally mandated, USDA administered, Organic Check-off. In looking at different definitions of discussion they generally follow this idea ‘the action or process of talking about something, typically in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.’

The one-sided propaganda campaign now being waged by OTA, which includes a mass mailing of brochures and robo-calls to individual producers, is not a discussion at all. It presents one side of a campaign to establish a USDA Organic Check-off program without asking the basic question of whether we want or need a federal government program to promote the organic label and assist with funding of organic research. This initiative was decided solely by the OTA Board, advised by Washington DC based lobbyists. With the authorization of the Farm Bill, OTA now has the choice of following the USDA process of establishing an organic check-off program under the administrative guidance of USDA AMS. While there are several times within that process when those that will be assessed have an opportunity to voice their opinions, it will be a protracted procedure that will last over 2-3 years and will require a well-financed and politically connected opposition in the face of OTA’s existing campaign. If the process for advancing an application for a check-off program continues under its present management by a trade organization using emotive language and a well-financed promotion program, it will divide the organic community. This will be counter-productive at a time when the community needs to be united in the face of many marketplace and USDA threats to undermine both the integrity and uniqueness of organic certification.

With this Farm Bill, organic producers and small businesses have the opportunity to opt out completely from paying into any organic check-off program which meant that farmers and ranchers can decide for themselves what to do with their money. If OTA is successful in establishing a USDA organic check-off organic program producers will lose that opportunity to opt out and be forced to pay into either a conventional or organic check-off program, something they may have voted against. There are many half-truths and sound bites now being used by OTA to describe the benefits of a USDA Organic Check-off program that are misleading at best.

There was never a community wide discussion of whether we needed an organic check-off or could be better served with other ways to promote organic production and research. Now is the time for a pause in the propaganda and hard sell and the launch of a community wide discussion of how to promote organic production and sales. We all want to promote organic and provide more money for organic on-farm research. When you get your robo call just reply that you are not in favor of any check-off and ask that they make a note of that on their call record.

When asked about what to do with check-off monies your reply could be ‘give the producers back their money and trust them to use it in ways that will benefit organic.’ Farmers and ranchers have always led organic research with their on-farm production practices and their lifestyles are the greatest promotion of the benefits of organic.

Unfortunately the process of establishing a USDA Organic Check-off will be all about numbers and getting out the vote against a heavily financed campaign (sound familiar to our deadlocked federal system of democracy?). NODPA has established an online petition to start to accumulate the numbers to oppose a move to establish a USDA Organic Check-off. Please consider signing on to the petition if you have not done so already:

Online Petition Organic Checkoff Program