Organic group opposes checkoff proposal
By STEVE BROWN
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic watchdog group, has come out in opposition to a proposal for an organic checkoff program.
"We want to make this abundantly clear, that none of our concerns, or the concerns of our farmer-members, have been placated to date," Mark Kastel, co-director of the national organization, said.
A workshop on the checkoff plan is scheduled for Friday at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wis. It is expected to draw more than 3,000 farmers, advocates, educators and students.
Kastel said the checkoff plan is being pushed by the Organic Trade Association, which he called an industry lobby group dominated by large food processors, marketers and retailers.
OTA's plan, he said, would create a USDA market order to assess participants in the organic industry for promotion and marketing campaigns and research. Farmers are concerned about the proposal to raise $30 million with few details about how the money would be raised and spent and how producers would be represented on a governing board.
"Farmers need to hang onto their wallets," Kastel said. "Corporate interests are pushing this hard, and farmers know that other commodity checkoffs have all too often been little more than economic Robin Hood-in-reverse programs."
OTA senior writer-editor Barbara Haumann confirmed the plans for a town hall meeting on the topic.
"It will be facilitated by the OTA, not pushed by OTA, to see if that or some other option would be good for the organic sector," she said.
She called the town hall approach "a fair and democratic way to weigh the options," and any checkoff proposal would be voted on by those who shape it.
The OTA, she said, represents businesses across the organic supply chain and addresses all things organic, including food, fiber/textiles and personal care products. More than half of the OTA trade members are small businesses, she said.