Business community has to stand up for organics | TheFencePost.com

Business community has to stand up for organics

A panel discusses the political outlook for the organic industry on the sidelines of Expo West in Anaheim, Calif., recently. From left are Lynn Clarkson of Clarkson Grain; Eric Bost of Texas A&M University; Laura Batcha of the Organic Trade Association; Kathleen Merrigan of George Washington University, and Bob Anderson of Sustainable Strategies LLC.

Batcha: Business community has to stand up for organics

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Organic business leaders have to tell the Trump administration and Congress that they like and will stand behind the Agriculture Department's National Organic Program, which sets the organic standards and controls the USDA organic seal, Laura Batcha, the executive director of the Organic Trade Association said recently.

"We need recognized voices from the business community showing up and defending the program. The market premium comes from a differentiation and no one wins if there is not a differentiation," Batcha said in a March 9 discussion of the political outlook for organics on the sidelines of Expo West, the organic and natural food show.

The role of the government is to uphold standards so that "there is a level playing field" for all producers," Batcha added.

While Trump and other Republicans are talking about reducing government regulations, Batcha noted that House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has described organic standards as a model of regulation because it is one that the industry asked for and a form of regulation in which companies "opt in."

With President Barack Obama in power for eight years, the organic industry got "settled into a groove" with the administration, and now has to figure out how to develop relationships with new White House officials and newly elected members of Congress, Batcha said.

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Some of the organic industry's strongest Republican supporters in Congress have retired, but one of the industry's advantages as a starting point, she added, is that most people buy some type of organic product

"There are a lot of people who are predisposed" to organics because they buy organic products, but the question is whether they will embrace organic policies, she added.

Eric Bost, an agriculture undersecretary for food, consumer and nutrition services in the George W. Bush administration who is now at Texas A&M University, noted that there is still "great uncertainty" about what the Trump administration will mean to the organic industry.

"I think that because of that uncertainty, there is an opportunity for this sector to educate and to inform people in the new administration of what you do, and how it is growing, how important it is to the millennial (generation of consumers)," Bost said.

Bob Anderson, the trade adviser to the Organic Trade Association, said, "There is an opportunity thrive on chaos."

There are now "definitive" studies that show communities with "clusters" of organic activity including both farming and processing have higher income levels and lower levels of poverty, he noted.

Kathleen Merrigan, the former Agriculture deputy secretary who wrote the Organic Foods Production Act when she was a Senate aide and is now the executive director for sustainability at George Washington University, said it is important for the industry to point out how interested young farmers are in organics, particularly due to the premiums they receive over regular commodity prices.

Merrigan said that, as farmers age, "I am really worried about repopulating those farms and ranches."

Millennials have grown up "when organics were a part of life," she noted, adding that organic programs are growing at universities around the country.

Lynn Clarkson, the chairman and CEO of Clarkson Grain, an ingredient supplier, said "we are basking in an industry that has had explosive success" but that maintaining standards for the USDA organic seal is absolutely vital for consumer confidence.

"If you don't believe in the organic seal, you are going to quit buying," Clarkson said.

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