The period for comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the proposed GRO Organic marketing order just closed, with feedback from more than 14,000 individuals and organizations received.
While most of the 14,000 plus comments were from organic grower stakeholders or consumers , comments from various regional organic organizations and organic food companies were also included. Among those favoring the proposed marketing order are Crop Life America, Organic Coconut Bliss, Marroquin Organics and General Mills (representing organic brands Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, Liberté and Muir Glen).
Crop Life America's support includes a caveat seeking all messaging for promotion, advertising and publication of research follow the guidelines set by the Commodity, Research and Promotion Act of 1996. This act prohibits false, misleading or disparaging activity which might harm another agricultural commodity; in this case, conventionally grown food.
Other organizations in support of GRO include Clif Bar, Hain Celestial, Amy’s Kitchen, UNFI and Albert’s Organics. Among regional certification agencies supporting the GRO assessment is the Florida Organic Growers.
According to Marty Mesh, organic farmer and executive director of Florida Organic Growers and Consumers “I find it troubling the amount of misinformation and outright misrepresentations about this proposal by members of a few organizations and their effort to rally comments by other organizations who don't really have the information; by people and even farmers who would never actually pay into the proposed fund, " he said. "The several thousands of certified organic entities I have directly spoken with through the years of this proposal development all seem to agree there is a real need for resources for research, promotion and information dissemination to grow our sector."
Organizations and individuals opposing the GRO ;proposal include Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), Organic Seed Trade Growers Association, Iowa Organic Association, and Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
The Organic Seed Trade Growers and Trade Association submitted a letter in opposition to GRO saying their mission to promote the organic seed trade would be prohibited if GRO passed, adding that their members vote was unanimous. Their membership voted unanimously to oppose GRO, with several members having “prior experience with Federal Checkoff programs and have at best found them ineffective and a waste of resources."
A letter from the Iowa Organic Association (IOA) stated a poll of its members indicated 80 percent were opposed. IOA members raised objections about GRO being burdensome and sales-focused rather than farmer-focused.
THE USDA, which received the GRO proposal from OTA in 2015, will spend the next several months reviewing the comments.
According to Laura Batcha, Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association, OTA will continue to provide accurate and up-to-date information on the proposal. " Throughout the summer, OTA will engage with interested businesses and groups to continue to build momentum for GRO, " she said. "OTA will also be focusing on other high-priority issues impacting the organic sector – the crafting of a new Farm Bill, facilitating the transition to organic to increase organic production and ensuring that organic always has a seat at the table in agricultural policy discussions."
Following its review, USDA can propose an alternative rule, proceed with the current proposed rule and conduct a referendum, or simply withdraw the rule.