Following up on my post from January 2nd, here’s an update on the proposed Regenerative Agriculture standards. To recap these new standards would not replace USDA Organic Standards, but rather build upon them in certain areas.
These new standards premiered at Anaheim’s Natural Products Expo West (a trade show for food producers) at the beginning of March. I happened to be there, and saw some booths focusing on regenerative agriculture.
I particularly like the emphasis on tiers that encourage operations to continuously improve on their practices. Continuous improvement is unfortunately not part of the USDA Organic Standards. Once an operation is certified, they are certified forever (unless they do something non-compliant and have their certification revoked).
Larger organic operations may do just enough to meet the bare minimum organic requirements. Profit driven corporations have no incentive to improve. That said, there are smaller (and even some larger) certified organic operations that go above and beyond the minimum requirements because they genuinely care about healing the environment and providing good jobs for their employees.
As a consumer it’s hard to pick apart the companies that are in it just for the increased profit margins, and those who really care and are doing more. How can you be sure that the language on a label is not just green washing? I struggle with this myself. To me the principles behind “organic” are to constantly improve, making your systems more environmentally sound.
Organic began as a way to produce healthier food free of synthetic pesticides, GMO’s, and more. It’s morphed into a certification where candy, chips, and other processed “food” can be called organic. I wouldn’t call those things food, and certainly don’t consider them organic under the origin of the movement.
Will these new regenerative standards limit what types of products can be certified? I hope so.
An advantage of the new standards is that they would provide a way to highlight operations that are going above and beyond in their sustainable practices. I question how one alliance will be able to oversee the certification of all operations (presuming that a lot apply). The National Organic Program (USDA Organic) accredits around 80 certifiers in the US to oversee the certification of all USDA organic operations. It’s a LOT of work.
It seems to me that the optimal choice to halt, and begin to reverse, climate change is to work with the majority of the agricultural community in the US that is not even USDA Organic. There is HUGE opportunity to transition those farms and operations to USDA Organic first. Certified organic agriculture is such a small piece of the total ag pie (though growing). It makes more sense to get as many conventional growers to transition to USDA Organic, rather than working with a small fraction of already certified organic growers.
Build on the current Natural Resource requirements in the USDA Organic standards, to improve things like soil health.
Incorporate incentives for certified organic operations to continually improve their practices.
Encourage resource sharing and collaborations amongst small farmers to make entry into USDA Organic manageable and sustainable for business.
Provide funding for operations, especially farmers, to transition to organic.
Increase public education funding to improve the public’s knowledge of what USDA Organic means, compared to the “Non-GMO Project” and the seemingly hundreds of other certifications out there.
As I stated before, I look forward to following this story and see where these standards go. The world is at a place where stricter standards are a necessity to prevent further damage to the planet, stop human rights violations happening in our fields, and ensure animals are treated as humanely as possible.