WASHINGTON — House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research Chair Stacey Plaskett delivered the following remarks at Wednesday’s hearing on assessing the effectiveness of the National Organic Program.
[As Prepared for Delivery]
“Good morning and thank you for joining us today as we examine the effectiveness of the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP).
“As our nation’s food manufacturers, a growing number of producers, and millions of consumers know, the USDA Organic Seal is a well-recognized and sought-after symbol in the grocery aisle. Ensuring the integrity of this seal is critically important to not only protect consumer confidence, but to also protect the premium that organic producers continue to enjoy.
“This industry has experienced a tremendous amount of growth over the last two decades, with annual sales now totaling over $50 billion. It is no longer a niche market in coastal cities, but a core component of grocery lists and food budgets in towns large and small. My constituents, as well as those in other rural districts, are seeking out organic products, and producers on the Virgin Islands are interested in organic farming to diversify their operations and increase profits.
“Just as the sector has undergone tremendous change, so has its farmers. Organic farmers and ranchers can now be found in rural and urban communities across the country. They vary in size and geographic location, but their mission remains the same: to produce high-quality food that meets consumer expectations through compliance with the National Organic Program’s standards. Today, we’re going to look at that program, the growth within this sector, and any needs for oversight and enforcement that may exist.
“Like other sectors that have seen explosive growth, the organic industry’s expansion has not been without challenges. As the subcommittee with jurisdiction over organics, we have a responsibility to oversee this rapidly-evolving segment without stifling the innovation that makes it so unique. We also must balance the demand for organic products while protecting the integrity of organic seal. That goal can be achieved through thorough oversight and strong enforcement of the organic standards.
“Leading that oversight are today’s witnesses – Under Secretary Greg Ibach and Dr. Jennifer Tucker. Thank you both for being here. USDA serves an essential role in the regulation and enforcement of organic standards, so your work is vital to the sector.
“The power of the organic seal is in its integrity—in the trust that consumers place in it. It’s our job here in Washington, both here and at USDA, to ensure we’re safeguarding the integrity of the National Organic Program.
“Just in recent months, we’ve seen this integrity challenged, with reports of fraudulent organic products being imported domestically. With these reports came consumer confusion, and a risk to the reputations of domestic organic supply-chains.
“Such incidents only highlighted the need for expanded authorities for enforcement, increased resources, more staffing, and stronger data collection. Action needed to be taken to protect the program’s integrity and restore consumer trust.
“I am proud that the 2018 Farm Bill provided NOP with new authorities to address the most pressing concerns of the organic industry. Our legislation invested in the NOP, vastly expanded the program’s authority to crack down on fraudulent organic imports, provided resources for data collection, and focused on interagency collaboration to best leverage expertise across USDA and the federal government. With these new authorities and investments, NOP should now have the tools necessary to better protect the program’s integrity.
“In a time when farm incomes continue to lag behind the rest of the economy, emerging domestic markets are a much-needed source of demand for what farmers and ranchers produce. The organic sector offers an opportunity for our farmers and ranchers to invest in their operations, seek a premium on their products, and meet a growing consumer demand.
“I look forward to hearing today’s testimony on where the USDA is in terms of implementing organic programs authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, and to a healthy dialogue about the performance of the National Organic Program.”
–House Agriculture Committee
For more articles concerning agricultural policy, click here.