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CEO DATELINE – Organic Trade Association moving forward with voluntary ‘checkoff’ program

Sept. 10, 2018
By Walt Williams

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The Organic Trade Association says it will push ahead with voluntary fees to boost organic food research and sales after the U.S. Department of Agriculture rejected the proposal.

OTA announced Sept. 6 the group was moving forward with a voluntary program to raise funds for organic food research and promotion. The association had sought a government-approved commodity checkoff program like those that exist for beef and diary products, but the USDA rejected the plan in May, citing a split in support among growers.

“The Organic Trade Association recognizes great demand for coordinated organic research and promotion, and the organic sector is ready to work together on innovative solutions that will have key benefits for organic,” OTA CEO Laura Batcha said in a statement.

USDA dropped the proposal amid concerns from smaller organic farmers they would be left out of the decision-making process for how checkoff money would be allocated. OTA itself has come under criticism for allegedly favoring corporate interests. A major organic food producer—Nature’s Path Foods—announced in July it had left the association because larger companies were using the group “to protect the best interest of their large, non-organic food portfolios.”

OTA has formed a steering committee of industry representatives to coordinate and lead the effort, but did not release details of how fees would be collected. The association also has teamed up with the industry group Organic Voice to raise $1 million for a nationwide education campaign to reduce confusion about organic products.

“We want to make sure – through our collective efforts -- that organic flourishes and grows for many years to come,” Batcha said.