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Policy Issues

Current Policy Issues


It is our aim to keep you advised of current policy issues that affect organic agriculture, and let you know how you can make your voice heard on the issue.  We hope that you will take the time to submit public comments, contact your state and local congresspersons, and let others know about issues that are important to you.  Public engagement on policy issues does make a difference.  We've seen it happen on many occasions, going back to 1997 when massive public outcry forced the USDA to go back to the drawing board on the first propoed rule for organic production.

If you're aware of issues on the national, state, or regional level which aren't listed here and should be, please email us.

29 Mar 2022    USDA Finalizes Long-Awaited Organic Dairy Rules

Win for Organic Integrity! USDA Finalizes Organic Dairy Rules

Press Release from the National Organic Coalition

Washington, D.C. – March 29, 2022 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized long-awaited organic dairy rules. The National Organic Coalition (NOC) had identified the rules, which are needed to create a fairer marketplace for organic dairy producers, as an urgent priority to be addressed by USDA. 

“Finally, USDA has responded to the call for a fair market for organic dairy producers,” said Ed Maltby, Executive Director of Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance (NODPA), a NOC member organization. “This is a win for organic dairy producers and all those who care about the integrity of the organic program. The new rule closes the loopholes that have given some operations an unfair advantage. The rule is meaningful and essential to protect the livelihoods of family-scale organic dairy producers.”

Organic dairy rules have provisions known as ‘Origin of Livestock’ – these provisions determine which animals can be considered organic and produce organic milk. ‘Origin of Livestock’ loopholes have been a longstanding problem, causing economic distress for family-scale organic dairy producers. A rule to close these loopholes was first proposed in 2015, but USDA delayed finalizing the rules for many years despite unwavering advocacy from NOC and the organic community and a direct mandate from Congress for their completion.

The final rule published today is an essential step forward to protect farmers’ livelihoods and the integrity of the organic seal. The rule will:

  • Create greater consistency in how dairy animals are transitioned into organic production – up until now inconsistent practices have given some operations an unfair economic advantage.
  • Require that milk and milk products come from dairy animals that have been managed as organic since before birth, with a one-time exception for the transition of a conventional dairy herd to organic production under a specific set of conditions.
  • Once the transition has been made, an operation can expand an organic dairy herd by adding animals that have been organically managed from before birth (from the last third of gestation). The operation cannot source transitioned animals from another operation.

NOC had strongly urged USDA to prevent transitioned animals from being sold to other operations as organic livestock because this creates a loophole that can be exploited to undercut operations that manage animals organically from before birth.

“The Biden administration and Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, have delivered a win for organic dairy producers, who have suffered too long due to inconsistent enforcement,” says Abby Youngblood, Executive Director of the National Organic Coalition. “This final rule will provide a framework to crack down on bad actors and will give the USDA National Organic Program the tools to prevent the egregious abuses that have harmed family organic dairy producers.” 

About the National Organic Coalition:

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is a national alliance of organizations working to provide a "Washington voice" for farmers, ranchers, conservationists, consumers and industry members involved in organic agriculture. NOC seeks to advance organic food and agriculture and ensure a united voice for organic integrity. www.nationalorganiccoalition.org

18 Nov 2020    National Organic Coalition Asks Biden-Harris Administration to Put Organic Back on Safe Footing

National Organic Coalition Asks Biden-Harris Administration to Put Organic Back on Safe Footing

Washington, D.C. – November 18, 2020 — The National Organic Coalition (NOC) has sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration flagging the priorities President-Elect Biden should tackle right away to put organic agriculture back on solid footing now and in future years. Much of the immediate work that is needed involves getting several key organic rulemakings and programs back on track after years of delays or outright regulatory rollbacks by the . . . . . 

11 Jun 2018    2018 Farm Bill: Senate Edition

Draft Farm Bill Released in the Senate — On Friday, June 8, the Senate Agriculture Committee released their draft of the 2018 Farm Bill.  Chairman Roberts requested that proposed amendments be submitted on Monday and the bill is expected to move to the markup stage on Wednesday, June 13, and to be brought to a vote on the floor of the Senate before the July 4th recess.   

The Senate bill is a rare example of bipartisan cooperation, and contains several provisions that are advantageous to organic agriculture, including language to improve the integrity of the import supply chain, a substantial increase in funding for the Organic  Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), and mandatory funding for the organic cost share.

The Organic Farmers Association has made the full text of the bill (1006 pages) available online.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has posted articles on six aspects of the bill of greatest interest to family-scale farms and organic production: Conservation, Agricultural Research and Plant Breeding, Organic Agriculture, Local Food and Regional Development, Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, and Commodity Programs and Crop Insurance.

The House version of the Farm Bill, in contrast, was deeply flawed from a sustainable agriculture perspective, and did not find enough votes for passage last month.  NSAC's take on what might happen next in the house is available here.

23 May 2018    Public Comment on GMO Labeling

Public Comment Period Open on GMO Labeling — In 2016 Congress enacted legislation on the labeling of GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) ingredients in our food, legislation which is popularly known as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know). In spite of the fact that an ABC poll in 2015 indicated that 93% of the American people believed that GMO foods should be labeled, the final legislation, referred to as the Stabenow-Roberts Compromise, denies states the right to require labeling of food containing GMO ingredients, provides for weakened “labeling” via QR codes readable only with smartphones, and establishes no enforcement mechanisms or penalties for non-compliance.

Now the USDA has released new draft rules for the labeling of GMOs—but instead of calling them GMOs, it uses the term “BE”, for “bioengineered foods”, in a clear effort to make them seem less threatening. The proposed symbol tries to make these ingredients, which are banned in 300 regions around the world [2], seem benign and even friendly. The rules also propose to exempt “highly refined” ingredients containing GMOs such as sugars and oils—this would exempt up to 70% of the GMO ingredients in our food.  

The public has an opportunity to comment on the proposed rules, and the “BE” icon, from now until July 9th. Please take the time to go to regulations.gov/document?D=AMS-TM-17-0050-0004 and let your voice be heard on this issue. Suggested points to emphasize include:

  • The symbols proposed by the USDA are not value neutral and are disparaging to non-GE products.
  • The term “bioengineered” is confusing and a departure from the terms genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified organism (GMO) understood by the public.
  • The USDA should recommend the text used to state “Produced with genetic engineering” or “Partially produced with genetic engineering” or use a neutral symbol.
  • The USDA should label all “highly refined” GE products like cooking oil, high fructose corn syrup, and the like.
  • Say NO to confusing QR codes and text messages that would make shopping trips longer, be costlier, and discriminate against those with less resources.

More information on the draft rule and GMOs in general can be found at www.nongmoproject.org/.

16 Apr 2018    Draft of 2018 Farm Bill Introduced in the House

Draft of 2018 Farm Bill Introduced in the House — On April 12, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) introduced his draft of the 2018 Farm Bill.  While the bill contains limited provisions in support of organic, there are several serious threats as well.  The bill would end funding for the Organic Certification Cost Share.  It would also legitimize the practice of naming employees of industrial organic operations to seats on the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) that were clearly meant to be held by small-scale farmers, handlers and retailers. The bill also threatens a number of conservation initiatives and programs that benefit small-scale farms both organic and conventional.

The National Organic Coalition has prepared a Scorecard evaluating issues of importance to organic farmers and consumers.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has published a series of blog posts concerning six major issues: beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, crop insurance and commodity subsidies, local/regional food systems and rural development, research and seed breeding, conservation, and organic agriculture.

All in all, this bill represents a significant threat to organic on several fronts.  It will go through an amendment process -- make sure your Representative knows where you stand as the House debates these issues.

11 Jan 2018    USDA Moves to Withdraw Livestock and Poultry Rule
USDA Moves to Withdraw Livestock and Poultry Rule — We don't always agree with the Organic Trade Association, but we are with them on this:  "After over a decade of stakeholder input, unanimous NOSB recommendations, and a thorough rulemaking process that yielded overwhelming support, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has taken an egregious action and all-out assault on the integrity of the USDA organic seal by opening a 30-day comment period on its INTENTION TO WITHDRAW the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) final rule that was released on January 19, 2017."

The Livestock and Poultry Rule was a long time coming, having been in development since the the "Final Proposed Rule" for Organic certification first went into effect in 2002.  We wrote a bit about the history of the Rule in September of 2016.  The implementation of the Livestock and Poultry Rule, initially scheduled for March 19, 2017, was postponed by the incoming Trump administration until May 19, then by another six months until November, and finally by another six months, until May, 2018.  Then on December 18, the Department published its intent to wthdraw the Rule.  This action flies in the face of public opinion, which was documented by the Department's own request for public comment earlier this year to be in favor of immediate implementation of the rule by an overwhelming majority.  There is a very informative summary of the issue which was prepared this past summer, in the face of the second delay in the implementation of the rule.

The OTA filed a lawsuit in September to attempt to force the USDA to stop delaying the implementation of the Rule, and has amended the lawsuit in response to the USDA's action in December.

The USDA public comment period is open now through January 18.  It is extremely important that every person, business, and organization with a stake in the integrity of the Organic label SUBMIT A PUBLIC COMMENT in their own words during this period.

16 Sep 2017    NOSB Fall Meeting October 31-November 2

NOSB Fall Meeting Oct. 31-Nov 2 The National Organic Standards Board will hold its fall meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, October 31 - November 2.  The board intends to discuss organic imports, review sunsetting of accepted inputs for organic operations and new petitions, a proposal to eliminate the incentive to convert native ecosystems to organic crop production, and, for the third time, the question as to whether hydroponic/aquaponic operations should be allowed to be certified organic.  The complete agenda is online at https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Tentative2017OctNOSBAgenda.pdf.

MOFFA Chair John Biernbaum was a member of the NOSB Hydroponic Task Force and has reported in our newsletter on several occasions about the status of this question.  He is planning to attend the fall NOSB meeting and to participate in a rally planned to protect the organic tradition and methods from the hydroponic producers and other efforts to reduce the meaning of organic agriculture.  

The "Keep the Soil in Organic" movement is pulling together many of the voices of organic farming in one more effort to help the USDA remember or see just what organic farming is supposed to be about.  To many, the significance goes beyond the narrow issue of whether this type of production can be considered "organic" to the broader question of whether the federal definition of "organic" will be watered down to a simple list of materials allowed in "organic" production, abandoning the intent of the initial legislation to define a holistic approach which encompasses a sustainable, regenerative approach to the production of our food.  The Rodale Institute's answer to this trend of "watering down" is to propose a new certification, "Regenerative Organic Certified".  It may be that this will untimately be the only alternative for those who believe in true organic agriculture, but the potential pitfalls in this course are many.     

For those who would prefer to make the effort to return the national organic standard to its roots, there are opportunities for public comment in several formats.  First, written public comment is being accepted now through midnight on October 11 at regulations.gov.  Additionally, there will be two comment webinars, on October 24 and 26.  Members of the public may register for a three-minute time slot to present comments at https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/oct-2017-national-organic-standards-board-nosb-meeting-registration-webinar; the deadline for registering for this opportunity is midnight on October 11th or when the maximum number of slots has been reached, whichever comes first.  And finally, there will be opportunities to address the board in person at the meeting for those who make the trip to Jacksonville.  Registration for this opportunity is at   https://www.ams.usda.gov/event/oct-2017-national-organic-standards-board-nosb-meeting-registration-in-person

20 Jul 2017    NOSB Teleconference on Hydroponics

NOSB Teleconference on Hydroponics The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) will meet via conference on August 14, 2017 from 1:00pm - 3:00pm Eastern to discuss hydroponics in organic food production.  The NOSB will not be voting on a recommendation during this web conference.  A transcript will be available approximately two weeks after the event.

Access the web conference at: https://cc.readytalk.com/r/3itgag2r7btt&eom.  The public is invited to listen to the NOSB discuss the development of a proposal on hydroponics.  Please be sure your speakers are on and the volume is turned up. The audio for the web conference should come through your computer speakers. You will not need to install any extra plug-ins/software. Test your computer before the meeting. If you cannot hear and your volume is on, please try a different web browser.  If you encounter technical difficulty, please contact ReadyTalk at https://support.readytalk.com/SP/?src=ccemail.

18 Jul 2017    Understanding the Farm Bill

Understanding the Farm Bill The Farm Bill is a many-faceted and complex piece of legislation, one which has a huge impact on the food system in this country, and especially on the future of sustainable agriculture.  The Farm Bill must be renewed every five years, and 2018 is one of those years.  We saw with the previous cycle (which was supposed to have been passed in 2013 but was not) how great an impact certain provisions of the bill – those without permanent "baseline" funding – can have on family-scale organic and sustainable operations directly, as well as research and advocacy efforts.  The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has published under the title "The Numbers Behind the Farm Bill" which analyze the budget assumptions that will underlie the 2018 Farm Bill: 

NSAC also provides an overview of the Farm Bill at What is the Farm Bill?

2 Jun 2017    Further Postponement of Organic Poultry and Livestock Rule

Further Postponement of Organic Poultry and Livestock RuleIn January 2017 the USDA NOP announced a new Organic Poultry and Livestock rule, clarifying the intent of the Organic Foods Production Act with respect to the treatment of livestock and poultry on organic farms. 

This rule comes at the end of more than fifteen years of recommendations from NOSB concerning the treatment of livestock, and particularly what constitutes meaningful outdoor access for poultry.  A summary of the history of this issue is part of the proposed rule and may be seen at https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2016-08023/p-61.  The final rule, adopted on January 19, 2017 and now in postponement, is the first rule to provide a clear statement of what is meant by "organic  poultry and livestock"


The rule was scheduled to take effect on March 19th, but the effective date was postponed until May 19th, in what we were told is a fairly common practice when a new admniistration takes over in Washington.  However, before the May 19th date was reached, the rule was again postponed, until November 14th.  There is reason now to think that the rule may be cancelled altogether. 

The USDA is accepting public comment through ** Friday, June 9th **.  The public is asked to weigh in on which course of action the USDA should take with regard to the rule:

  1. Let the rule become effective. This means that the rule would become effective on November 14, 2017. 
  2. Suspend the rule indefinitely. During the suspension, USDA could consider whether to implement, modify or withdraw the final rule. 
  3. Delay the effective date of the rule further, beyond the effective date of November 14, 2017.
  4. Withdraw the rule so that USDA would not pursue implementation of the rule.

Please go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=AMS-NOP-17-0031 and click on "Comment Now" to let the USDA know your opinion on this issue.

11 May 2017    Rollback of EPA Regulations

Rollback of EPA Regulations—On February 24, Trump signed Executive Order 13777, “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.” This has been widely understood to mean the elimination of hard-won regulations addressing toxic pollution and fuel emission standards, and programs that improve and protect the gains we have made toward clean water and clean air.  The EPA is responsible for national-level regulation of pesticides, and while its record under the previous administration wasn't ideal, we believe it would be disastrous for the program to be weakened or eliminated. 

The EPA has requested input from the public on the question of regulatory reform.  The deadline to provide comment is midnight, on Monday, May 15th.  The EPA has provided more information about the  issue at https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/regulatory-reform, and you can submit your comment at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190

The EPA has also helpfully provided a list of suggestions for increasing the impact of your comment; regulations.gov has a similar list.

18 Apr 2017    Spring NOSB Meeting

Spring NOSB Meeting—The Spring 2017 NOSB meeting will be held in Denver April 19-21.  The major issue before the NOSB this spring is whether hydroponic and aquaponic systems should be able to be certified organic (see "Keep the Soil in Organic" below), and the question has been in contention for the past eight years.  The issue was before the NOSB last fall, too, and they failed to act.  The Cornucopia Institute will be live-tweeting the meeting and posting to its website in realtime.  That link is not yet active, but is available at Cornucopia's NOSB page.  That page also has links to Cornucopia's public comment on the issues before the board, and an analysis of public comments on the hydroponics issue. 

14 Apr 2017    Second Farm Bill Hearing

Second Farm Bill Hearing—U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today announced the Committee will hold its second Farm Bill field hearing of the 115th Congress in Frankenmuth on Saturday, May 6 to begin work on the 2018 Farm Bill.  All stakeholders and the general public are invited to submit testimony or comments in writing for the official Committee record.  The deadline for submitting comment for this hearing is May 12, 2017.  Comments may be submitted at www.agriculture.senate.gov/farm-bill-input.  The hearing will be webcast live on ag.senate.gov.

14 Apr 2017    Congressional Recess

Congressional Recess—The U.S. Congress is on recess again, and many of our legislators will be holding town hall meetings and/or will be available to speak to constituents at their local offices.  If you have the opportunity to attend a Town Hall, we encourage you to do so.  The Center for Food Safety has put together a useful guide for preparing for and making your voice heard at townhall meetings: www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/townhall-toolkit_16785.pdf.  An excellent site for learning about your elected officials is www.govtrack.us/congress/members/MI.  In addition to contact information for all of Michigan's representation in Washington, the site offers a useful map of congressional districts and substantial information and voting record for each of the Senators and Representatives.

13 Apr 2017    The Organic Check-Off

The Organic Check-Off—The public comment period on this issue ends at midnight on April 19.  The “check-off” program would use funds collected from producers and handlers of organic products for promotion and research—it’s the program that brought us the “Got Milk?” and “Incredible Edible Egg” campaigns.  Again, the vast majority of organic farmers are opposed to this additional “tax”, feeling that promoting organic sales now will not increase organic acreage in the US but may well increase demand for lower priced organic imports.  The check-off has been strongly promoted by the Organic Trade Association, representing corporate interests, and the public comments are already full of their form letter.  There is more information on the check-off at noorganiccheckoff.com and www.cornucopia.org/2017/01/organic-checkoff-proposed-usda-dismay-farmers/.  You can view the proposed rule and submit your comment at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=AMS-SC-16-0112-2265.  MOFFA's comment is here.

13 Apr 2017    Keep the Soil in Organic

Keep the Soil in Organic—The public comment period has ended on the question of whether hydroponic operations should be able to be certified organic.  The issue will (we hope) be decided at the Spring NOSB meeting in Denver on April 19-21.  For those who would like more information, MOFFA's Chair Dr. John Biernbaum, who served on the hydroponics task force, reported on his experience in our September and December newsletters.