USDA Organic Won’t Have a Checkoff Program (or a Spiffy Slogan)

USDA Organic Won't Have a Checkoff Program (or a Spiffy Slogan)
iStock/Bruce Block

The USDA has opted not to continue development of a proposed USDA organic checkoff program due to divisive opinions of the program from within the organic community.

Checkoff programs collect funds from producers of a particular agricultural commodity for the purposes of promotion, marketing, and research. Beef and dairy checkoff programs have spawned ad campaigns such as “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner” and “Got milk?”

During the public comment period for the proposed USDA organic checkoff, which closed April 19, nearly 15,000 comments were received, revealing, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, “that there is a split within the industry regarding support for the proposed program.”

The AMS pointed to this “uncertain industry support,” as well as to “outstanding substantive issues with the proposed program” as motivations for abandoning it.

The USDA organic checkoff was first proposed by the Organic Trade Association three years ago, in order to “strengthen the position of certified organic products in the marketplace, support research to benefit the organic industry, and improve access to information and data across the organic sector.”

A group of 6,000 farmers known as the No Organic Checkoff Coalition vociferously opposed the program, citing additional taxes and the potential for corruption as motivations.

“Existing checkoff programs have a history of corruption and using funds inappropriately, with poor representation of farmer priorities in granting of research dollars,” the Coalition said.

“I don’t know a single farmer that would voluntarily take part in a checkoff program, especially the half-baked proposal from OTA,” Jim Gerritsen, president of the Organic Seed and Trade Association told Capital Press.

Following the termination of the program, the OTA commented that this decision “reflects a pattern of holding back forward progress on organic by USDA.”

“The $50 billion organic sector offers opportunities for U.S. organic farmers and businesses,” the OTA continued. “It makes no sense that the agency is continuing to take steps to cut it off at its knees.”

Capital Press writes that this division is symptomatic of a larger trend within the organic industry: that of the development of very distinct industrial and family-scale organic factions, each of which has very different needs and goals.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco