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Home > Supporting Organic Farms and Businesses Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Supporting Organic Farms and Businesses Through the COVID-19 Crisis

This page will be updated regularly as new information about COVID-19 and possible impacts to the organic industry and the people who work in this trade becomes available. Stay tuned and stay healthy.

So many Organic Trade Association members are on the frontlines as cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to spread throughout the United States and the rest of the world. During this challenging time, organic farms and businesses are working hard to get food out of the fields, to load the trucks and to keep the supply chain filled so that our communities can continue to have access to clean food. Thank you all for the important role you play in keeping people healthy.

The organic sector is facing new challenges now, and is going to need support from the government to continue feeding our communities. Congress and USDA are working on solutions to deal with the devastating impacts to the economy including the agriculture sector. If you are experiencing challenges that could be supported through federal assistance from USDA or Congress as they consider various stimulus packages, please share your insight into what is happening on the ground.

Our staff teams are working remotely on policy solutions to support organic and to advocate for essential support for the sector.

We will continue to monitor the developments and keep everyone updated on our list serves, in our News Flash and through this web page. Please reach out with questions and share your experience and let us know how the Organic Trade Association can best support you and your markets. We’re also interested in collecting community-sourced resources that you have found helpful so we can share with other members. 

It is a tough time and the disruption is difficult, but we are a resilient community. You are all in my thoughts.

Laura Batcha
CEO/Executive Director
Organic Trade Association

CRITICAL DEVELOPMENTS FOR ORGANIC
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TAKE ACTION! Ensure Federal Recovery Efforts Include Assistance for the Organic Sector

TAKE ACTION!  Ensure Federal Recovery Efforts Include Assistance for the Organic Sector

As the entire U.S. economy is being impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19, it is important that organic businesses communicate directly with your elected federal representatives and senators. This is a difficult and challenging time for businesses of all sizes. Sharing your unique perspective on how this disruption is affecting your farm or business is crucial to informing federal recovery efforts. Congress is working around the clock to pass multiple stimulus packages worth trillions of dollars to assist workers and businesses. 

The passage of these massive bills is only just the beginning.  As the situation evolves, Congress is introducing hundreds of bills to respond to the needs of various sectors of the economy including food and agriculture. Many of these bills will become law in the coming months, so it is never too late to communicate with Congress on your needs. In addition to controlling the federal purse strings, Congress plays a critical role in the oversight of federal agency responses to the crisis, and its Members need to hear from you, their constituents.

TAKE ACTION NOW     


 

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Advocacy, Recovery Needs, and Federal Stimulus

Organic, Ag, Small Business Recovery, and  Federal Stimulus Priorities

Policy solutions are needed. We are working with lawmakers and regulators to mitigate potential economic harm to the organic sector, federal agencies and Congress must prioritize:

  • Assistance to farmers whose supply chains have been severely disrupted including those that sell direct to consumers, institutions, restaurants or farmers markets.
     
  • Ensuring that support for farmers whether through loans, disaster relief or direct payments serve the entire U.S. agriculture sector reflecting the diversity of our food and farm system. A focus must be placed on providing assistance that is specialized for the specialty crop and organic sectors as well as small and medium-sized farms.
     
  • Minimizing disruptions in the transportation, supply and distribution channels and providing assistance to redirect distribution to emergency food banks and retail outlets
     
  • Providing grants, not just loans, to small businesses, farmers and food start-ups that will be particularly hit hard during this crisis
     
  • Communication and coordination from the National Organic Program and accredited certifiers  on inspections to protect the safety of certifiers and farmers
     
  • Immediate release of certification cost-share funds to certifiers and State Departments of Agriculture to help organic farmers offset the cost of their annual inspections
     
  • Protecting export markets for U.S. organic. Provide flexibility for interrupted international market activities through the administration of the Market Access Program (MAP), Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) grants. Ensure timely reimbursements for canceled activities and/or rollover funding for 2020 grants when normal business and international travel resumes.
     
  • Ensuring an adequate supply of agricultural workers to prevent further labor shortages. Prioritize and designate the processing of H2-A visas as an emergency service.
     
  • Providing flexibility for research and extension grants and awards for 2020 so that activities may continue when academic institutions reopen.

TAKE ACTION NOW     

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SURVEY: Organic Food Supply Chain Issues

SURVEY: Organic Food Supply Chain Issues

The Organic Trade Association is working with USDA’s External Affairs office and collecting information to make sure their office is aware of any specific Organic Food Supply Chain issues the industry is experiencing. If your company is currently encountering any export or import delays for organic products, ingredient supply shortages, or other disruptions, please complete this short survey. We will compile all information received by close-of-business Friday (March 27) and provide this to the USDA. Please note that this survey provides an option to identify yourself and your company, but we will not provide identifying information to USDA. Please contact Gwendolyn Wyard if you have questions or additional information to share.

TAKE SURVEY NOW     

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NOSB Spring Meeting will be Virtual

NOSB Spring Meeting will be Virtual

The National Organic Program (NOP) has announced that the Spring 2020 National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meeting will be held live online, instead of in-person. This will allow the Board to move forward with deliberations as scheduled in an open and public setting, without the need for travel.

NOP is expanding the two webinar-based public comment periods on Tuesday, April 21 and Thursday April 23. Comment sign up instructions are already online, and they will add time slots to accommodate more people if needed. Register to give webinar comments by April 3rd, 2020.

The public meeting will be held live online via webinar on Wednesday, April 29 and Thursday, April 30. Watch the NOP/NOSB Spring meeting webpage for details on the times and agenda. The virtual meeting will be open to the public and the transcript will be posted online after the meeting.

The deadline to submit written public comment has not changed and is 11:59 p.m. April 3, 2020. OTA’s regulatory staff is continuing to take feedback on the agenda topics as we draft our comments for member review. Expect to see OTA’s draft comments by Friday, March 27. For more information about the agenda topics please visit our Spring 2020 NOSB Meeting webpage.

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USDA Organic Inspections

USDA Organic Inspections

The organic regulations require certifying agents to conduct annual on-site inspection of each production unit, facility, and site that produces and handles organic products. This includes an initial on-site inspection. The on-site requirement obviously brings about challenges given the rapidly changing status of the COVID-19 pandemic and the national, state and local directives to help slow the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe.

If you are a certified organic operation, you may have already received a COVID-19 communication from your certifier outlining the steps they are taking to ensure safety, along with updates on inspection scheduling and cancellations. If you have not heard from your certifier, please contact them immediately with any questions or concerns you may have.

The Accredited Certifiers Association (ACA) and the International Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA) are actively collaborating to develop an industry-wide pandemic contingency plan for on-site inspections. As stated in the release, certifiers have “many tools that they can use to verify organic compliance while travel restrictions are in place.” This includes flexibility for temporarily postponing renewal inspections and verifying compliance of an operation through remote means such as virtual inspection or desk audit. Certifiers are working together and quickly developing plans for renewal inspections and will be reaching out to operators with more detailed protocols.

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New Organic Certification May Be Significantly Delayed

New Organic Certification May Be Significantly Delayed

The greatest challenge we expect will be for operations in the process of applying for NEW certification (either new operation or new field or facility), where a remote or virtual inspection would not allow for the issuance of an organic certificate. Please be aware that many communications I am seeing from certifiers are expressing a significant delay for new applicants, so please plan accordingly to the best of your ability. Again, if you are not hearing from your certifier, please be proactive, reach out to them directly and find out what you can do to help the process along.

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Organic-Approved Cleaners, Sanitizers and Disinfectants

Organic-Approved Cleaners, Sanitizers and Disinfectants

Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. The Environmental Protection Agency has listed the registered disinfectants for COVID-19.  Organic-approved active ingredients for use on food contact surfaces include:

  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Peroxyacetic acid
  • Isopropanol
  • Ethanol
  • Sodium hypochlorite
  • Hypochlorous acid
  • Check with your certifier for approval of any brand-name products.
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Food Safety Inspections

Food Safety Inspections

There are similar concerns about ensuring the safety of food along with the safety of workers and communities. In short:

  • FDA will temporarily not enforce FSMA supplier verification on-site audit requirements if other appropriate supplier verification methods are used instead (March 17, 2020)
  • FDA has postponed most foreign facility inspections through April, and inspections outside the U.S. deemed mission-critical will be considered on a case-by-case basis as the outbreak continues to unfold (March 18, 2020)
  • FDA has temporarily postponed all domestic routine surveillance facility inspections. All domestic for-cause inspection assignments will be evaluated and will proceed if mission- critical. FDA will continue to respond to natural disasters, outbreaks and other public health emergencies involving FDA-regulated products (March 18, 2020)
  • USDA has moved to enhanced telework posture, however USDA continues to be “open for business” and is committed to ensuring the health and safety of its employees while still providing the timely delivery of services to maintain the movement of a safe food supply. (March 17, 2020)
  • FSIS meat, poultry and processed egg inspection services continue as normal and APHIS and AMS continue to provide critical inspection and grading services. More information can be found here.
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COVID-19 Resources and Guidance from State and Federal Agencies               

COVID-19 Resources and Guidance from State and Federal Agencies                          

U.S. Department of Agriculture

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

U.S. Small Business Administration

Department of Homeland Security

General Farm & Food Sector Resources

Produce sector

Dairy sector

Retail sector

State Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

We’re also interested in collecting community-sourced resources that you have found helpful so we can share with other members. Please let us know about any additional resources we should share with the community. 

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Organic Businesses are Stepping Up

Organic Businesses are Stepping Up

In spite of this new reality, it is encouraging to see our members come together to support each other through this crisis. Organic businesses are stepping up to help our communities and to protect the health and safety of the American people.

United Natural Foods Inc. announced that it has established additional flexibility and provided incentives for the front line distribution center associates providing America with essential services during the COVID-19 national state of emergency. In an internal memo the company told employees it would temporarily increase all of its hourly teammates' wages. With the current state of emergency that it is operating within, the company's stores have seen sales literally double overnight. Hourly teammates wages will increase by $2 per hour for all hours worked. In addition to the $2 per hour temporarily added to all hourly wages, the company will be also increasing overtime rates to double the new rate per hour, rather than time and one-half rate. Read the full story.

The Organic Produce Network recently reported the latest insights on sales of organic fruits and vegetables. For more on the organic produce supply chain, including why loose greens aren’t selling, why the growing season transition from the desert to the coast matters, and what to expect for demand at the retail and foodservice levels, read their story Organic Sales in COVID-19 Era.

In a letter to the community, Nature’s Path said they are directing thousands of cases of organic products to organizations supporting children and the elderly most in need during these difficult times. Read their statement
 

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We’re Here For You

Please take a moment to share your concerns, questions, or comments in regard to the effect of COVID-19 on your operations and resources. Let us know how we can best help you navigate these challenging times. As the organic sector responds to a rapidly changing landscape we will provide ongoing updates and resources to help you plan for the future. Do you have additional resources that you’ve found to be helpful? Share them with us so we can share them with the organic community. Our team has gone virtual, but we are fully up and running to serve the needs of our members around the clock. Reach out, we’re here for you.

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