To counter the erosion of USDA organic standards a broad coalition of organic farmers and their advocates have formed the Real Organic Project. The organization was formed to promote the adoption of a new food label that would fully articulate the ethical and agroecological standards that the current label can no longer guarantee.
The incentive for the non-profit to launch this new label came as a response to the USDA National Organic Program’s decision to permit non-soil-based (hydroponic) farms and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) to be certified as organic.The newly proposed Real Organic Project label will require both soil-fertility and animal welfare standards as part of its designation.
“All we are seeking is transparency.” said Real Organic Executive Director Dave Chapman. “Our message is clear and simple. Organic farming must be based on healthy soil, with plants and animals as an integral part of that soil ecosystem. The only radical thing about our new standards is that they have been rejected by the USDA. They are a return to the fundamental beliefs of organic farming.”
The new add-on standards will include:
1. Origin of Livestock. In current NOP rules, producers can continuously transition dairy animals into organic over time. This standard ends that loophole.
2. Grazing Requirement. There is strong evidence that current NOP grazing requirements are not being met. This standard tightens the current standard, and it will be enforced.
3. Grown in the Ground. Current NOP decisions permit 100% hydroponic production with no relationship between the soil and plants. This standard mirrors the recently passed EU standard that requires crops to be grown in the soil, in contact with the subsoil, in contact with the bedrock.
4. Soil Management. Current NOP language requires certified farms to maintain and improve the fertility of the soil, but these standards are often not being met. This standard simply reinforces the language and intention of OFPA and the NOP language.
5. Greenhouse Production. NOP standards around greenhouse production have never been set. This standard prohibits the use of 100% artificial lighting and requires an energy plant to show steady progress in reducing the carbon footprint.
6. Animal Welfare. Following the recent rejection of the Organic Livestock and Poultry Production (OLPP) recommendation for improved animal welfare, CAFO production of poultry has become accepted in NOP certification. This standard requires genuine outdoor access for all animals. It also addresses other animal welfare concerns, such as preventing tail docking and beak trimming (used in farming systems that allow overcrowding of livestock).
7. Split Farms. This standard limits the circumstances in which an organic farm can produce non-certified crops.
The Real Organic Project believes that these seven short organic standards are sufficient to revive the stricken heart of the current NOP standards and that the vast majority of certified organic farms in the US will have no problem meeting these “new” standards.
According to the Real Organic Project Standards Board chair “It is unfortunate that this add-on label is necessary, but USDA has demonstrated over the past few years that it is unwilling to uphold the full integrity of the organic label.” Learn more here.