Trust is crucial to organic identity. Since their inception, organic standards – as they were defined by the USDA’s National Organic Program – have been process-based, meaning they established rules for an entire system of farming that follows a product from its beginnings on the farm all the way to retail.
Changes to Standards Are Usually Bad
The most recent changes to organic standards – the weakening of the sunset provision in 2014 – definitely weren’t good. That’s not the change that’s happening now, though, which isn’t a change to the rules at all, but a change of focus. And it’s one consumers should applaud, because it’s consumer trust – increased and sustained – that is the goal.
Transparency has always been the means for organic producers to earn consumer trust. What we’re seeing now from our certifying agency is a demand for increased proof of compliance with existing regulations. Until recently, vendors of agricultural products only had to attest that their products hadn’t been grown using any of the excluded processes – sewage sludge fertilizers, irradiation, or genetic engineering.
Changing on the Fly
Now, our vendors are required to to show proof, rather than just attest, meaning their documentation must now include something it’s never had to. The results have been a lot of surprise and scrambling, on both of our parts. We need new documentation from them and they’re having to change what they have on the fly.
We’d prefer to have more time when it comes to sudden change, but that’s not our choice. Committing to third-party certification often means being subject to someone else’s schedule, as well as trying to correctly adapt to changes that might send ripples to unexpected places.
The Right Thing to Do
That’s the nature of things when you choose to play by the rules. Choosing not to is a whole lot easier and you get to say lots of things that aren’t true to entice customers. In the end, though, we don’t make the organic commitment to make things easy for ourselves. We continue in our commitment in order to offer our customers a product that’s good for them and marketing they can believe.
The shift in focus from certifying agencies is about increasing and sustaining consumer trust, giving them a set of standards for products that are better for their families and their environment, a set of standards that doesn’t change to meet marketing needs. It’s not always easy making the better product, but it is the right thing to do.