Saturday, May 11, 2013

Is The USDA Trying To Make It Easier For Farmers To Obtain Certification?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program’s 2012 list of certified organic operations  reveals there are now nearly 25,000 certified organic operations worldwide. Those operations represent more than 100 countries and show a significant increase over the past years. Efforts are ongoing to see those numbers continue to increase.

“One of USDA’s strategic goals is to increase the number of certified organic operations in the U.S. to 20,655 by 2015, a 25% increase from the 2009 baseline of 16,564,” Sam Jones-Ellard, USDA public affairs specialist, said in an e-mail.

As part of this goal, in 2012, the USDA began its Organic Literacy Initiative, an effort to train USDA staff on how the USDA supports organic agriculture. The initiative also includes a toolkit, titled “Is Organic an Option for Me,” which is designed to help growers decide whether organic farming is an option for them.
Another aspect of the USDA’s efforts to encourage organic farming is the Sound and Sensible initiative, which is designed to streamline the organic certification process, according to Jones-Ellard.

 “The Sound and Sensible initiative, which streamlines the organic certification process while maintaining high standards, ensuring compliance, and protecting organic integrity, is another important step in support of this strategic goal,” Jones-Ellard said.

The project will focus on helping growers achieve organic certification, which could in turn increase the number of certified operations in the U.S. “The goal of this initiative is to help ensure that organic certification is affordable, accessible and attainable for all operations interested in exploring the organic option,” Jones-Ellard said in an e-mail. 

As part of the initiative, the National Organic Program attempted to clarify the information that USDA agents can provide to clients without being considered “consultants” by publishing new instructions for certifying inspectors, according to the April issue of Organic Integrity Quarterly, the organic program’s newsletter.
“This instruction, which will be released this spring, will outline what certifiers and inspectors can and can’t do to assist organic operations,” Jones-Ellard said.

Sound and Sensible is also set to provide an updated list of certification instructions, which will be released as they are completed. Training sessions for program auditors are scheduled for the end of April, which will teach the new Sound and Sensible principles to help increase consistency, according the newsletter. Future projects of the initiative will strive to remove barriers small businesses can encounter when striving to achieve organic certification. The “Removing Barriers” project already has considered feedback from the Accredited Certifiers Association, among others. - Melissa Shipman, The Packer


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