PDF _ RL31595 - Organic Agriculture in the United States: Program and Policy Issues
22-Aug-2008; Jean M. Rawson; 15 p.

Update: Previous releases:
February 15, 2008
September 15, 2006
May 3, 2007

Abstract: Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) in 1990 as part of a larger law governing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs from 1990 through 1996 (P.L. 101-624, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990). The act authorized the creation of a National Organic Program (NOP) within USDA to establish standards for producers and processors of organic foods, and permit such operations to label their products with a “USDA Organic” seal after being officially certified by USDA-accredited agents. The purpose of the program, which was implemented in October 2002, is to give consumers confidence in the legitimacy of products sold as organic, permit legal action against those who use the term fraudulently, increase the supply and variety of available organic products, and facilitate international trade in organic products.

Policy issues affecting the National Organic Program since implementation largely reflect the differences in interpretation among stakeholders of the language and intent of OFPA and the actual operation of the program under the final rule. The NOP was challenged in 2003 by a lawsuit claiming that many of the regulations were more lenient than the original statute permitted. Although the issues around the lawsuit were ultimately resolved, partly by court-ordered rulemaking and partly by an amendment to the OFPA that was attached to the FY2006 appropriations bill, new issues concerning program operation continue to arise.

One of these relates to USDA’s efforts to write a new regulation governing access to pasture for organic dairy cows (and other ruminants). Tight supplies of certain organic commodities, particularly dairy products, and the entry into the market of major grocery retailers wanting to sell organic foods are adding pressure to this debate. Critics charge that large organic dairy operations are not abiding by the intent of OFPA by feeding organic grain to cows in feedlots, and that the principle of grazing is central to consumers’ concept of organic milk. Supporters of existing regulations point to the need for flexibility in order to maintain an organic dairy sector that can meet growing demand.

The new omnibus law that will govern USDA programs and policies through FY2012 contains several provisions affecting organic agriculture and the NOP (H.R. 2419/P.L. 110-246; the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008). The law provides $22 million in mandatory funds to continue a cost-share program to help farmers obtain organic certification; $5 million in mandatory funds and $25 million in authority for appropriated funds over five years to support the collection and analysis of organic production and marketing data; and $78 million in mandatory funds over four years to support the organic agriculture research and extension initiative.

This report will be revised as events warrant.

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Topics: Agriculture, Information, General Interest

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