Association proposes organic checkoff
By STEVE BROWN
The Organic Trade Association, which represents businesses across the organic supply chain, has proposed a marketing order for the industry.
This would be the first multi-commodity checkoff, executive director and CEO Christine Bushway said. Many organic producers already pay into conventional marketing orders, "but they don't get any particular promotion for what makes them unique," she said.
Those orders include much of what organic growers produce, from dairy and eggs to pork and watermelons. If an organic checkoff becomes reality, growers would get to choose which order to pay into.
Conventional marketing orders do have an exemption for organic growers, "but it's very complicated to meet the demands," she said.
Through town hall meetings and webinars the past couple of years, the OTA has brought the idea to growers, producers and "anyone who would be impacted, who has an interest," Bushway said.
She said most of the response has been positive.
"Most people in the industry recognize that it's critical the industry have its own megaphone," she said. "The biggest issue to have a mechanism to compete in the marketplace."
Recent reports from Stanford and the American Academy of Pediatrics point out how research results can be interpreted in many ways, which leads to consumer confusion.
"This would be an educational thing about what you get and what you avoid by buying organic," she said.
One group opposed to a checkoff is the Cornucopia Institute. Co-director Mark Kastel said his association has more organic farmers and producers than any other group.
He called the idea of an organic checkoff "a manufactured concept. ... Corporate interests are pushing this thing, and we ain't buying."
Kastel said the OTA is controlled by giant manufacturers of products where "almost nothing is different (from conventional) except in the use of chemicals."
"When you look at how the (consumer spending) pie is carved up, there are very few dollars that go to the farmer," he said. "More goes to grocers and holding companies. They want farmers to pay for the research, but they have more resources."
The research reports from Stanford "weren't that bad," Kastel said. "They were just interpreted very poorly." Cornucopia reported that funding for the research came from biotech and big agribusinesses.
In his opinion, he said, "The idea has gained virtually no traction in the farming community, just the marketers and the manufacturers who would love to tax all the farmers."
Bushway, though, said 60 percent of her association's membership is small businesses.
The checkoff would fund both research and marketing, she said.
"It's important research be set up so it isn't biased toward the industry," she said. "Other commodities set up science advisory boards to review proposals, to decide what would be useful."
Like other promotional campaigns, "Organics will need a great logo, a good catch phrase."
She said OTA has taken the lead in proposing an organic checkoff, but it would not be an OTA organization.
"We're just the vehicle. We're providing a platform to discuss the feasibility and concerns," she said. "It is yet to be determined how much (the assessment will be) and who will pay. We don't want to burden the farmer. The industry will determine that."