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Analysis by the National Organic Coalition (NOC)
On December 19, 2019, the Senate passed agriculture spending legislation as a part of a larger spending bill that includes some wins for organic, but falls short on several key asks. The House passed this same bill earlier on December 17. The President signed the legislation on Friday, December 20 to avert a government shutdown.
Annual funding for USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) will increase by $2 million (up to $16 million from the current funding level of $14 million). NOC has been pushing for these increases to ensure that the NOP has the necessary resources and staff capacity to effectively enforce the organic regulations and prevent organic import fraud.
The legislation includes a provision requiring that the USDA to issue a final rule on Origin of Livestock within 180 days of enactment to ensure a level playing field for the transition of conventional animals into organic dairy herds.
Report language that accompanies the bill recognizes the need for continued oversight of the organic dairy sector. The report language states:
The agreement recognizes the importance of consumer confidence in the integrity of the USDA Organic Seal. The agreement appreciates the work the USDA has done to increase training and certifier consistency with respect to dairy operations. The agreement urges USDA to continue to conduct this critical risk based oversight, particularly for large complex dairy operations.
The bill funds the Organic Transitions Program at $6 million annually, which is level funding with FY 2019. NOC had requested an increase to $8 million annually to address production challenges for farmers related to soil fertility and pest and disease management strategies.
The bill funds the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program at $37 million annually, which is level funding. NOC had requested annual funding of $45 million for this critical program focused on on-farm research into sustainable agricultural farming systems, including organic systems.
The bill does NOT include the provision in earlier House spending legislation to block the USDA from relocating the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. NOC is opposed to the move because we believe it undermines the critical research conducted by these two federal agencies, including research on trends in the organic sector, and is resulting in the loss of highly experienced staff who have chosen not to move with the agencies.