Not organic enough

Many consumers already have a foggy idea of what organic actually means, but in the US, the waters area bout to get muddier still. Two groups are creating new organic certification for those who don’t believe organic is “organic enough”.

The research-based Rodale Institute, organic body care and food company Dr Bonner’s and Patagonia Provisions will offer new organic certification programmes to farmers who already have the USDA’s organic certification. The Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) will be earned by farmers that meet additional requirements to protect workers and guarantee a higher standard of animal welfare. Meanwhile, the Real Organic Project, started by several founders of the organic movement, will also offer a seal of approval to organic farmers that meet higher standards.

According to “cosmic engagement officer” of Dr Bronner’s David Bronner the new seal celebrates the next level of organics, by emphasising fair labour practices, a greater level of animal compassion and a mandate to improve soil health. Things he believes were lost when federal organic regulations were set.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA) warned that a new standard may spread misconceptions that the USDA organic standards do not include requirements for soil health, biodiversity and animal welfare. OTA said it could “present an unfortunate disservice to the livelihood of the organic sector and organic farmers across America.”

Mark Kastel, co-founder of the Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit organic advocacy group, says that while dedicated organic eaters may devote the time required to understand the intricacies of three different organic labels, many more may just give up and decide it’s too hard to decipher the varied requirements and their meaning.

The emergence of these new certifications highlights the increasing fragmentation affecting the US organic sector. There are greater tensions between those who do the bare minimum to achieve certification which has minimal enforcement from the USDA and the true believers who go above and beyond. Smaller producers feel large companies are cashing in on consumer perceptions of small family organic producers with a narrative that doesn’t reflect the vast majority of federally certified organic farms.

Patagonia Provisions and 10 other companies will participate in the ROC pilot that will run for the next nine months.  While products with the new seal will be more expensive, at least at the beginning, chief executive of Patagonia Provisions Rose Marcario says there are consumers who are willing to pay for it. In her opinion, the new seal may actually reduce confusion as it covers practices, which are policed by fair trade and animal welfare certification groups.

If all goes well, the ROC seal will show up on products in grocery stores early next year. Only time will tell if consumers will get a better grasp on organic with the new “organic plus” products.