OWN asked Laura Batcha new CEO/Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association to present some of the major milestones and achievements for the OTA and the industry from
2004 to 2013. Here are the highlights.

Growth of the U.S. organic industry 

U.S. organic sales have grown from $11.7 billion in 2004 to nearly $31.5 billion by the end of 2012, according to data collected in the OTA’s annual organic industry survey. Sales of organic food reached slightly more than $29 billion, while those of non-foods totaled nearly $2.5 billion. This is significant growth since implementation of national organic standards in October 2002, with organic sales at the end of that year tallying $8 billion for organic food and $365 million for organic non-food products.

Growing consumer demand

U.S. families are embracing more organic products in a wide range of categories, with 81 percent in 2013 reporting they purchase organic at least sometimes, according to findings in the OTA’s 2013 U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes and Beliefs Study.  This was up significantly from the 73 percent of  parents who reported doing so in OTA’s 2009 baseline study. Not only are more consumers choosing organic products at least sometimes, but the majority of those buying organic  foods are purchasing more items than a year earlier. New entrants to buying organic now represent 41 percent of all families – demonstrating interest in the benefits of organic food and farming is on the rise.

Consumers increasingly want to know how their food is produced Overcoming dairy labeling

During 2008 and 2009, the organic dairy sector was challenged from a movement by various states to prevent organic milk from being labeled truthfully. Ohio posed the largest challenge, with a 2008 emergency rule proposed for enactment by the Ohio Department of
Agriculture to require labels to include a disclaimer for dairy products produced from cows
not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone. Ohio attempted to prohibit statements on labels which informed consumers that organic dairy products are
produced without antibiotics,  pesticides or synthetic hormones. After the OTA and the International Dairy Foods Institute sued Ohio, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit at the end of September 2010 ruled in favor of OTA and organic interests in the landmark case (It wasn’t until 2011 that the State of Ohio agreed to abandon the rule rather than trying to revive it).

2008 Farm Bill a win for organic

Four years of hard work by the OTA and others within the U.S. organic sector paid off in 2008 when the U.S. Congress passed the 2008 Farm Bill quintupling the amount of mandatory spending on organic programs, and authorizing additional spending if appropriated. Two of the biggest winners were research and the certification cost share programs. Research Programs garnered $78 million over the life of the bill. Meanwhile, the bill provided $22 million over five years to help cover the costs of certification for farmers and handlers. arms were eligible to receive 75 percent or up to $750, to help defray certification costs. Additional authorizations for the National Organic Program (NOP) were included as well.

NOP milestone

In 2009-2010, U.S. Congress and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) doubled the budget and staff of the NOP, which became an independent program within USDA’s Agricultural  Marketing Service. With growing attention for including organic across all agencies within USDA, the organic sector saw gains in conservation programs and data collection.

Food Safety Modernization Act and Organic

Just before the closing of its 2010 session, Congress passed the FDA Food Safety  Modernization Act to help tighten U.S. food safety oversight while including provisions to protect organic farmers and producers from costly duplicative or conflicting requirements. This critically needed legislation will provide`greater consumer protection from food-borne illness, and is crafted to protect organic producers from duplicative trace-back and record-keeping systems, or any requirements that would violate National Organic Standards. President Obama signed this legislation into law on Jan. 4, 2011. Over several months, OTA urged members to weigh in on several key issues to better understand how the  proposed requirements would impact organic growing and handling practices and developed and submitted comments to FDA. Following the public comment period, FDA released a statement on key provisions of the proposed produce safety rule revised  and released for a second round of comments. FDA’s announcement was a real win for organic producers and handlers, and their decision to propose a revised rule was largely due to the work of the OTA Task Force and collective efforts throughout the organic sector. The growth of the GMO food labeling movement: Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 16, 2011, members of the organic industry and organic supporters joined the 313-mile GMO Right2Know March from New York City to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and pressure the U.S.  government on the lack of labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In 2011, organizations, including OTA, began to partner with the national “Just Label It: We Have A Right to Know” campaign and signed a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug  Administration (FDA) calling for mandatory labels on products that use GMOs. In April 2013, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to- Know Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. This bill would require food manufacturers to label any product that has been genetically engineered or contains genetically engineered ingredients.

International trade milestones

The first organic equivalency agreement in the world was signed June 17, 2009, between the  United States and Canada. This historic equivalency agreement allowed the continued smooth flow of certified organic products between the two countries, and supported the continued growth of this rapidly expanding market in North America. The agreement took
effect on June 30, 2009. A significant achievement announced in 2010 was the adoption of trade codes by the United States for a list of organic products. As of Jan. 1, 2011, the U.S. began tracking 20 organic import codes and 23 organic export codes. Up until this point, Canada had been the only country in the world tracking organic imports. The U.S. is now the only country tracking both organic imports and exports. In February 2012, the U.S and  the EU recognized each other’s organic standards in an equivalence arrangement signing, fully effective June 12, 2012. In the latest development, on Sept. 26, 2013, the United States and Japan signed an organic equivalence arrangement between the two countries. This first twoway trade agreement in Asia also marks the first organic equivalency arrangement without organic standards exceptions. As a result, certified organic products as of Jan. 1, 2014, can move freely between the United States and Japan.

On the brink of another milestone
In May 2013, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke publicly of the distinct and unique needs of organic agriculture, and announced guidance to remove agency obstacles  to its continued growth. “Organic is not the ‘same as.’ It is its own separate commodity and needs to be treated as such. I’m committed to that,” Secretary Vilsack told OTA Policy conference attendees. He also announced plans to increase coverage options for organic producers under  federal crop insurance provided through USDA’s Risk Management  Agency, including removing the five percent organic rate surcharges on all future crop  insurance policies beginning in 2014. Vilsack added that USDA would provide new guidance
and direction on organic production to all USDA agencies directing them to recognize the distinct nature of USDA certified organic production and organic goods, and to take into account the documentation and inspection required for organic certification when considering organic operations’ eligibility for USDA programs and policies.

As part of this editorial section celebrating our 10th
anniversary, OWN welcomes other comments about milestones or defining moments in the organic sector, to be published in upcoming editions.