It has been a rough few years for the organic label. From scandals over fraudulent organic grain imports and the revelation of several factory-scale farms producing certified organic milk and eggs, to controversy around the inclusion of hydroponic or “soilless” farming and the reversal of comprehensive animal welfare rules, not to mention last week’s termination of the organic checkoff proposal, one thing is clear: The organic industry’s rapid growth may also turn out to be its downfall.
Organic is the fastest-growing retail segment, valued at $50 billion per year, and an increasing number of multinational corporations want a piece of the pie, leaving the integrity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) certified organic seal in question. In fact, organic agriculture is so fractured that several groups of organic farmers and advocates have begun to create alternative labels to realign with what they believe is the original intent of USDA Organic.
Now, organic certification faces an attack from Congress, which has proposed re-shaping the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the citizen group that oversees organic regulations. By allowing more corporate entities to evaluate the organic label and decide which farm chemicals and other inputs farmers are allowed to use on their organic fields, industry insiders worry the proposed changes could further erode the strict standards of organic production that distinguished it from conventional agriculture and built a thriving market.
Given the strife over organic regulations within the USDA and the building pressure from agribusiness lobbyists on Congress, could this farm bill weaken organics to the breaking point?