The Organic Trade Association has applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s announcement in December of a proposed rule to exempt more organic farmers and handlers from paying into conventional commodity check-off programs (or industry and promotional levies), while responding to a Wall Street Journal article throwing into question the thoroughness of the certification system of the U.S. organic industry.

“OTA has worked very hard to get this exemption on the books, and we are optimistic that this important regulation will now soon take effect,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and executive director of OTA. “The organic sector is a fast-growing, distinct industry with its own unique demands for research and promotion. We’re pleased USDA is moving swiftly to allow the industry to use its money to grow and develop its own sector.”

On December 9, the Wall Street Journal published an article “Organic-Farming Boom Stretches Certification System,” which throws into question the thoroughness of the certification system of the U.S. organic industry.

However, on December 21, the Journal published OTA CEO and executive director Laura Batcha’s response in a Letter to the Editor under the headline, ‘The Organic Label Means what it Says’.

“Regarding Caelainn Barr’s “Boom in Organic Farming Outpaces Regulator” the U.S. certified organic system reflects and adheres to the strictest government standards of any in the agricultural sector, and is the most sincere and substantive reform of industrial food, fiber and agriculture available anywhere in the globe,” Ms Batcha said.

National commodity research and promotion check-off programs, funded by producers of the specific commodity, have been a part of American agriculture for almost fifty years. There are now 22 of these promotional programs in place, ranging from the oldest check-off program begun in 1966 for cotton, to one of the newest that promotes American-grown mangoes.

The proposed exemption, which was expanded by Congress in the Farm Bill of 2014, would extend the exemption for organic farmers, handlers, marketers, or importers from just the 100% organic label to the primary organic label (95% organic) and pertain not exclusively to farmers or handlers who work solely with organic products, but also to those who produce, process, handle and import both organic and conventional products.

Additional savings of up to $13.6 million that will be available as a result of this exemption can be used by organic farmers, ranchers and handlers to address everyday problems and to tackle issues that will help advance their businesses and the organic sector, said Ms Batcha.

The 2014 Farm Bill also authorizes USDA to consider and hold a vote on an organic research and promotion check-off program if the organic sector submits to the agency an official proposal for an organic check-off.

The USDA published the notice of the proposed changes in the December 16, 2014 Federal register, with a 30-day public comment period.