Food Alliance returns to certification business

Food Alliance, a nonprofit sustainable agricultural program, has relaunched its third-party certification. It had suspended operations last February, but several clients saw a continuing need for Food Alliance's focus on social and environmental issues. The new operation will be fee-supported rather than being reliant on government and private grants.

Capital Press

Published on September 5, 2013 9:15AM

PORTLAND — Food Alliance is back in the agricultural certification business after having suspended operations last February.

Spokesman Matthew Buck said the primary change is to make the organization less reliant on grant money for operations.

“About 60 percent of our annual budget of $800,000 came from government and private entity grants, which just wasn’t sustainable,” he said. “The rest came from certification and audit revenues. Now we’ll be living within those resources. We’ll reduce overhead, operate with a smaller footprint and outsource routine functions.

“We’re going to be focusing on one core service, certification.”

Board members and former staffers met with several clients — including Shepherd’s Grain, Stahlbush Island Farms, Truitt Family Foods, Food Services of America and Central Bean Co. — to develop the new operating plan and budget.

“The response from the business community has been gratifying,” said board chairman Jeff Picarello. “To have farmers and food processors rally to support us really affirms the commitment we all share to good food and a healthy future.”

Buck, who was recruited to help restructure the organization and guide operations under the new fee-supported model, said Food Alliance developed its certification standards over the past 12 to 15 years, and food producers and processors have found that certification valuable in differentiating their products and adding value.

Contrasting those standards with the USDA’s National Organic Program’s “bright line” prohibition on synthetics, he said, “Ours is more an IPM (integrated pest management) system. In some cases, a synthetic product may be appropriate. We are a realistic, holistic certifier.”

Food Alliance standards emphasize:

• Safe and fair working conditions;

• Healthy and humane care for livestock;

• No hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics;

• No genetically modified crops or livestock;

• Reduction of pesticide use and toxicity;

• Conservation of soil and water resources;

• Protection of wildlife habitat; and

• Continuous improvement of practices.

Some businesses have dual certification, particularly if they serve multiple markets. “We can work with our auditor to help get that done,” Buck said.

The Food Alliance started in the Pacific Northwest as a joint project of Washington State University, Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The region is “still our stronghold,” he said, but the program is now in 25 states, Canada and Mexico.

“It has been really gratifying reaching out to clients, especially after some difficult conversations last spring,” he said. “I found that you don’t miss your water till your well runs dry.”



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