By Melody Meyer, Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations, United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI)
The media has been abuzz with news of the government shutdown and the blame game is exuberant on both sides of the aisle. In 2011, after Republicans took control of the U.S. House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995. There are currently 5,628 bills and resolutions before the United States Congress. Of those, only about 5% will likely become law. These statistics make the 112th Congress, covering 2011-12, the least productive two-year gathering on Capitol Hill since the end of World War II.
It’s time to take a comprehensive look at how this non-action is usurping the standard operations of the National Organic Program and the entire organic industry. Where does Organic stand in the wake of all this legislative dysfunction?
Congress is required to pass separate spending bills every year to fund the operation of the government. If no such bill becomes law, the government functions cease immediately. This spending bill is called the “Continuing Resolution”. As a result of Congress’ failure to pass a CR, the National Organic Program was forced to furlough all staff and shut down its website and all email communications. No longer can farmers or consumers seek guidance, give comments or file a complaint. The entire program is no longer functioning. The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting, scheduled for October 22-24, may be canceled if the shutdown continues past October 10. This is a huge problem for consumers and farmers alike, because the strict regulatory oversight the organic industry lives by is at a complete standstill.
On the same day, October 1,amidst the media cacophony on the “CR”, the Farm Bill slipped quietly into expiration with barely a sigh. The history of this farm bill is circuitous and murky. The last farm bill that was passed was in 2008. Congress failed to pass a new bill in 2012 and instead extended some parts of the 2008 bill through September 30, 2013. You can read more on the bill’s history on my Blog posts “What’s up Congress?” and “Over the Organic Cliff we go”. Having no new agricultural legislation in five years puts funding of the following organic programs completely on hold:
The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program reimburses participating organic producers and handlers for 75 percent (up to $750) of their certification fees. This program helps make organic certification affordable, enabling farmers and processors to meet the growing demand for organic food.
The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative is a competitive grant program dedicated to the growing research needs of the organic community.
The Organic Production Market and Data Initiative is a multi-agency organic data collection initiative that collects information vital to maintaining stable markets and tracking production trends.
The Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) provides funding to community supported agriculture programs, farmers’ markets and farm markets to help develop marketing information and business plans, support innovative market ideas and educates consumers.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program invests in the next generation of farmers and food entrepreneurs by helping them access land, credit and crop insurance. It also assists in launching and expanding new farms and businesses, and it provides training, mentoring and education.
Value-Added Producer Grants provide funding for feasibility studies and business plans, marketing for value-added products and farm-based renewable energy projects.
For a comprehensive list of what’s at stake visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalitions blog series Life without a Farm Bill.
Most experts don’t expect Congress to take any formal action on conferencing the Farm Bill until they have resolved the issue of funding the government. Throughout the process we must continue to keep the pressure on them to finalize and pass a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill addressing our organic priorities.
The question on my mind is weather our elected officials are able to actually govern. That is the job we pay them for and the work we sent them to Capitol Hill to do. Tell your Congressional leaders to get their job done and take organics off of hold!
Melody L. Meyer is the Vice President of Policy and Industry Relations for United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI). Her role is to help strengthen and promote healthy, sustainable and organic food production and consumption through education and advocacy. She also serves as the Executive Director for the UNFI Foundation. Melody is president of the Board of Directors for the Organic Trade Association. She is a board trustee for The Organic Center and serves on the Organic Advisory Committee for the CA Department of Food and Agriculture. Melody has been in the organic food industry since 1976, when she began her career at an Iowa Natural Food Cooperative. She started her own business, “Source Organic,” in 1995, which was eventually acquired by Albert’s Organics / UNFI. Prior to her current role, Melody served as the VP of Global Initiatives at Albert’s Organics where she was deeply engaged in promoting and developing and Fair Trade and organic producers from around the world. Read more from Melody on her blog about everything organic at organicmattersblog.com.