January 7, 2005:
I would like to welcome Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns as the
next Secretary of Agriculture. I am pleased to see a fellow
Midwesterner selected for the post.
Once confirmed— almost certain after his unanimous
approval by the Senate Agriculture Committee on January 6—Gov.
Johanns will be taking over a Department of Agriculture with
the strongest organic standards in the world. The Organic
Foods Production Act of 1990, which was fully implemented
in October 2002, set rigorous and uniform production, handling,
and labeling requirements.
But there is much work ahead!
The organic sector is expanding rapidly, with U.S. domestic
sales growing at an annual rate of 18-20 percent for the last
10 years and topping $12 billion in 2003. Published reports
indicate that Gov. Johanns is a strong supporter of innovative,
value-added, market-driven agriculture. Organics is a values-based
system of agriculture, and Gov. Johanns will find that it
is ready to continue to grow.
Organic agriculture is consumer-driven, with farmers being
rewarded in the marketplace for implementing environmentally
sound farming practices. As such, it fits nicely with conservative
principles and ideals. (After all, OFPA was signed into law
by the first President Bush, and the organic regulation was
fully implemented under the current administration.)
Care of the land, production of food, and consumer choice
are non-partisan issues, however.
“The customer is always right!” is the first
law of business. It is time for the USDA to listen to consumers
and allow Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to be fully implemented.
COOL will provide valuable information to American consumers,
so that they can more readily purchase products from American
The farm press is now predicting an end to the farm subsidy
program, which supports the production of mass quantities
of cheap raw materials, contributes to agri-business consolidation,
exacerbates soil erosion and water pollution, and violates
free trade agreements. The subsidies are predicted to end,
not because of their negative impacts, but because they are
too expensive to maintain in times of staggering budget and
To replace farm subsidies, the Conservation Security Program
(CSP) must be fully implemented. This program rewards farmers
who adopt stewardship practices on working farms. It is encouraging
to see the program offered in 202 watersheds in 2005, up from
18 watersheds in 2004. It needs to be offered nationwide in
2006, as envisioned by Congress.
In order to expand consumer choice, increase exports, safeguard
the environment, sustain farm families, and expand rural economic
activity, incoming Sec. Johanns would be wise to strengthen
USDA organic program initiatives.
Priorities to be addressed by Sec. Johanns should include:
- Appointment of an Agricultural
Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator who is supportive
of organic agriculture. The AMS Administrator
sets the direction for the National Organic Program (NOP),
including staff needs, budget requests, NOSB appointments,
work plans, and regulatory interpretations. This is a keystone
position for protection of organic integrity, consumer confidence,
and growth of the organic sector.
- Coordination of USDA organic
research, data collection, regulatory, outreach, foreign
trade, natural resource conservation, and crop insurance
programs. The USDA’s AMS, Agricultural
Research Service (ARS), Cooperative State Research Education
and Extension Service (CSREES), Economic Research Service
(ERS), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), National Agricultural
Statistics Service (NASS), Natural Resources Conservation
Service (NRCS), and Risk Management Agency (RMA) are all
providing valuable services to the organic sector, but those
services need to be expanded and better coordinated to maximize
efficiency and effect.
- Inclusion of an Organic Resource
Conservation Title in the next Farm Bill. Studies
by the ARS, University of Minnesota, Washington State University,
The Rodale Institute and others all show that organic farming
systems produce equivalent yields to conventional agriculture
while doing a better job of protecting ground and surface
water and improving soil quality. Combined with strong consumer
demand and sustainable farm prices, organic agriculture
must be a foundation piece of the next Farm Bill, and USDA
has the opportunity to take the lead.
- Strengthen the USDA’s
National Organic Program. The NOP has done an
exemplary job of writing an organic regulation that is true
to organic principles and consumer expectations. They continue
to implement a national (actually international) regulation
that impacts all forms of crops, livestock, and processed
products with a miniscule budget and a staff of six. But
the efforts of the NOP need to be reinforced to meet the
- Train all USDA-accredited certifying agents for consistent
- Conduct on-site accreditation audits of foreign certifying
- Institutionalize peer review of the NOP, as required
by OFPA and the regulation
- Adopt standards for apiculture, greenhouses, and mushrooms,
as recommended by the NOSB
- Regulate categories of products that make “organic”
label claims, including aquatic animals, pet foods,
nutritional supplements, fertilizers, and personal care
- Publish a National Organic Program Quality Manual
- Index the $5000 small farmer exemption (set in 1990)
to the rate of inflation
- Clarify existing requirements for livestock, including
outdoor access for all species and pasture access for
- Continue the NOSB’s role in management of the
National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances
- Expand organic opportunities.
Incoming Sec. Johanns can demonstrate leadership by expanding
opportunities for conventional and organic farmers by:
- Ensuring that the national organic certification cost
share program continues to be funded
- Providing nationwide access to NRCS organic transition
- Increasing funds for organic research projects
- Mandating that RMA organic crop insurance programs
pay organic prices for insured organic producers
- Directing the AMS to develop marketing, promotion,
and consumer education tools to support the organic
- Improve the regulation of genetically
modified organisms (GMOs). Yes, biotech company
scientists have the ability to create and patent novel organisms
by combining genes from totally different species, families,
or kingdoms, but these transgenic organisms are not part
of the Creation, and they have no place in the natural order.
Studies now confirm that transgenic crops have contributed
to lost markets, depressed farm prices, and increased
use of pesticides. They have also been shown to have negative
environmental impacts, including increases in herbicide-resistant
weeds and pesticide-resistant insects and contamination
of foundation seed sources.
GMOs do not respect property borders and
are causing harm to organic and non-GMO producers through
“transgenic trespass.” Biotech companies and
growers of GMOs are exposed to risk when their products
cause economic and/or environmental harm. Likewise, farmers
and consumers who choose to avoid GMOs are being exposed
to these products against their will and without their
knowledge, due to the absence of GMO labeling.
In an editorial of December 6, 2004, the Los Angles Times
stated, “The U.S. needs rigorous rules for labeling
organic and genetically modified foods.” We already
have rigorous labeling requirements for organic foods,
but there are no label requirements for GMOs. The USDA
must address this and numerous other issues related to
GMOs to bring a level of regulatory certainty for both
the persons who want to sell, use and consume GMOs and
those who choose to avoid them.
As Governor of Nebraska, Mike Johanns has demonstrated his
support for fiscal conservatism, value-added production, free
trade, renewable energy, and agricultural stewardship. As
Secretary of Agriculture, he will have the opportunity to
combine these principles and lead an agricultural revival
in this country.
Organic agriculture is consistent with the incoming Secretary’s
objectives. It is well positioned for growth, and deserves
to be a fundamental part of the USDA’s mission.
Jim Riddle serves as chair of the USDA’s National
Organic Standards Board and organic policy advisor for NewFarm.org.
He was the founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors