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OTA Responds

The Organic Trade Association and The Organic Center act fast to counter misinformation about organic food and farming when negative stories materialize. We help to protect and positively impact the reputation of organic with fact-based responses and demands for fair and accurate press coverage. OTA members faced with their own crisis PR issues can lean on OTA for support. To learn more, contact OTA's Director of Media Relations, Maggie McNeil


Organic cotton:
It’s better for the environment, and here’s why

June 2, 2017

In response to the May 28 article “Your organic cotton t-shirt might be worse for the environment than regular cotton”:

Quartz’s article fails to consider the big picture when comparing the environmental footprint of organically and conventionally grown cotton. Conventional cotton yield has increased over the past three decades, but these yield gains have come at a high cost.

Cotton is notorious for being one of the world’s most chemically intensive crops. Conventional cotton production soaks up 16-25% of the total pesticides produced worldwide, even though the crop itself only covers about 2.5% of the world’s total agricultural land. 

Read the full response


OTA issues a response to "Monkey Cage' analysis
in the Washington Post

May 23, 2017

In response to the “Monkey Cage” analysis by Jason Kuo published on May 22 in the Washington Post, the Organic Trade Association reiterates its original response (below) to the May 13 story "The labels said 'organic,' but these massive imports of corn and soybeans weren't" and adds the following:

It is a federal law that all agricultural products labeled as ‘organic’ sold in the U.S., regardless of origin, must be certified to USDA organic certification standards. USDA, through the National Organic Program, oversees the term ‘organic,’ and accredits all certifiers (both domestic and foreign) to the same requirements.

The NOP has authority to take appropriate legal action to enforce the organic standards and protect the integrity of the USDA organic standards, from farm to market, around the world. That includes revoking the accreditation of a certifier who is inadequately upholding USDA regulations, imposing fines for willful violations, and working with the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges when appropriate. USDA’s global organic control system includes: strict production standards; accreditation of certifiers; certification of farmers, processors and handlers; and enforcement. The USDA organic regulations include organic system plan requirements, recordkeeping requirements, comprehensive process audits, and inspections that trace organic product from market to farm.

As OTA said in its original response, while issues identified in the Washington Post article do not constitute a systemic flaw in oversight of the organic claim, they raise serious red flags.  The Organic Trade Association is calling on traders to immediately report any concerns of fraud to the National Organic Program compliance division and their USDA accredited certifier, and is calling on organic businesses and consumers to join OTA in asking elected officials to call on USDA to up its game and protect organic consumers and food makers from bad actors. Protecting a growing industry from any potential activities that are exceptions to the rule requires a modernized approach to trade oversight. 


OTA issues a response to Washington Post article
"The labels said 'organic,' but these massive imports
of corn and soybeans weren't"

May 15, 2017

In response to the May 13 Washington Post article entitled “The labels said ‘organic,’ but these massive imports of corn and soybeans weren’t,”, the Organic Trade Association calls on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Organic Program to thoroughly and immediately complete investigations of any reports of fraudulent imported organic livestock feed either alleged in the story or otherwise reported by trade. This action is in line with our continual commitment to maintain the integrity of the USDA organic standard.

It is a federal law that all agricultural products labeled as ‘organic’ sold in the United States, regardless of origin, must be certified to USDA organic certification standards. USDA oversees the term ‘organic,’ and accredits all certifiers (both domestic and foreign) to the same requirements to uphold the integrity of the organic label. The oversight of foreign organic suppliers and the enforcement of organic standards must be rigorous and robust. Consumers trust in the organic label. That label should assure consumers that the product – wherever it was grown -- was produced, handled and processed according to the strict set of federal rules and regulations of the U.S. organic label. Improved oversight under these circumstances protects organic consumers and farmers from the potential of unscrupulous actors looking to illegally capitalize on the growing hunger for organic food.

For consumers who care about how their food is grown and made, organic remains the best option to choose food, farm, and fiber products grown without toxic and persistent pesticides, from animals raised without the use of antibiotics and synthetic hormones, and produced on farmland managed for biodiversity and environmental conservation.

In the United States alone there are over 24,000 organic farms, ranchers, food makers, and distributors that work hard every day to meet high consumer expectations for food produced according to the strictest standards out there. The integrity of the certification process and the commitment to compliance and enforcement are the lifeblood of the organic industry, and are not taken lightly.

While the issues identified in the article do not constitute a systemic flaw in oversight of the organic claim, they raise serious red flags that need to be addressed. The Organic Trade Association calls on traders to immediately report any concerns of fraud to the National Organic Program compliance division and your USDA accredited certifier. The entire trade along with the certification bodies should exercise caution and fully verify imported organic livestock feed from areas of concern until full investigations are completed.

The Organic Trade Association calls on organic businesses and consumers to join us by asking our elected officials to call on USDA to up its game and protect organic consumers and food makers from bad actors. Protecting a growing industry from any potential activities that are exceptions to the rule requires a modernized approach to trade oversight. Such an approach utilizes the latest technology to audit imports back to the farm and facilitates investigations where certifiers, inspectors, the National Organic Program, and other government agencies share information readily to investigate and resolve allegations of fraud quickly and effectively.

Lastly, all stakeholders, businesses, policymakers, and USDA need to commit to build the opportunity for U.S. farmers to supply the growing thirst for organic products—so when farmers choose to go organic, they are competing on a level playing field.


OTA issues a response to Washington Post article
"Why your 'organic' milk may not be organic"

May 1, 2017

In response to a story in the Washington Post on May 1 by reporter Peter Whoriskey titled “Why your ‘organic’ milk may not be organic,” the Organic Trade Association issued the following statement:

Organic has earned the trust of American consumers. The organic seal represents a product grown and produced by dedicated farmers, ranchers, and processors who are complying with the highest and strictest federal standards of any food and agricultural system in the U.S. The organic sector works every day to maintain that hard–earned consumer trust. Adherence to the organic standards by organic operations, verification and enforcement of compliance by accredited certification agents, and oversight of the certifying agents by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are critical to the integrity and success of the organic sector. 

The organic industry -- and each organic farm, ranch and processor -- relies on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its certifying agents to ensure the organic sector’s compliance to the most rigorous standards, and to reassure consumers that their expectations are met every time they buy organic. At the end of the day, this is the strength of organic. No other label builds in this type of on-the-ground oversight, transparency, or opportunity for continuous improvement. 

In summary:

  • The organic industry relies on consumer confidence in the organic seal for its success in the marketplace. This confidence is intrinsically linked to a rigorous system of audits, inspections, and monitoring of all certified operations to organic’s clear and strict standards.
  • In order for the organic industry to remain the gold standard in food labels, we depend on USDA and its certifying agents to ensure the organic certification system has scale-appropriate resources and expertise to verify each and every operation’s compliance with the organic regulations.
  • Growth in the organic industry requires that the compliance and verification aspects of the program grow commensurately, and the industry relies on a competent and consistently applied certification system.
  • The Organic Trade Association as the leading voice of the organic industry:
    • Calls on USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) and its accredited certifiers to provide excellence in oversight and compliance activities. 
    • Requests that adequate resources and priorities be placed on training and technology critical to a world-class compliance system. 
    • Supports updates to the organic regulations that provide clarity and ensure all operations are held to the same standard.

From The Organic Center: What the latest research actually says (and doesn't) about organic

March 14, 2017

Precise analysis of scientific articles isn’t always easy and almost never quick.  Today’s media has much to report on and respond to, and increasingly, corners get cut in taking the time to get the news out in the most accurate way. A new journal article published in Science Advances highlights many areas where organic agriculture excels: higher biodiversity, improved soil and water quality, greater profitability, and higher nutritional value.  But much of the current media coverage focuses less on the content of the paper and more on a few out of context quotes, and the guarded title of the article, “Many shades of gray—The context-dependent performance of organic agriculture”.

Read the full research analysis



OTA responds to allegations of organic crop insurance fraud

December 9, 2016

On December 9, Farm Journal published a piece by Chris Bennet titled “Organic Crop Insurance Abuse Hide in Plain Sight.” OTA's Farm Policy Director Nate Lewis submitted the following response: 

"Farm Journal Technology and Issues Editor, Chris Bennet, levels fairly serious allegations of crop insurance fraud on some organic producers in his county in SE Texas. While organic is certainly not immune to crop insurance fraud, some of the observations he’s making and conclusions he’s coming to make us question his understanding of crop insurance and organic production.  All crop insurance, whether for organic or conventional, does not cover losses when producers do not follow good farming practices. What Mr. Bennet describes: planting crops without fertilizer and never cultivating, certainly would not be considered good farming practices and losses from such a system should not be eligible for an indemnity payment. In addition, organic farmers must submit an organic system plan to their USDA accredited organic certifier, and such a plan would never be considered in compliance with the organic regulations. Organic producers must also prevent contamination of their crops from pesticide drift and genetic drift from GMO crops. In order to avoid genetic drift, producers typically must plant a minimum of two weeks after their neighbors, which staggers tasseling, and which Mr. Bennet may be misinterpreting as a deliberate attempt to manufacture a crop failure.  Lastly, while the article seems to paint the picture of out-of-control crop insurance fraud occurring on the organic acres in Matagorda County, the data from USDA’s Risk Management Agency doesn’t support this. From 2006 to 2015 the Loss Ratio for organic crop insurance in Texas was 1.83 and for conventional it was 1.37. Tax payers are underwriting the crop insurance safety net for all producers in Texas, not just the organic ones. There are always bad apples in the bin, or bad bolls in the bale, but Mr. Bennet casts aspersions on the entire organic industry based on his clearly uninformed observations and his unsubstantiated conclusions. Organic has shown 30 years of sustained premium prices for farmers, and consumers are clamoring for more products with major retailers like Costco and Wal-Mart entering the organic space. We’d suggest Farm Journal’s editorial staff read the market trends and make the case that organic could be a viable option for their readers rather than labeling hard-working organic farmers as fraudulent."


The Organic Center points out how CDC study misses the mark

November 4, 2016

The Organic Center pointed out that the results from an article published in the Journal of Food Protection by Reid et al. examining foodborne disease outbreaks associated with organic foods don’t place the few instances of pathogens in the context of the numerous outbreaks from conventional products. In total, the study found only 18 outbreaks associated with organic between 1973 and 2014—less than one outbreak every three years. Additionally, the authors were only able to confirm USDA organic certification for 11 of the 18 outbreaks, and at least three of the outbreaks were definitively from non-certified operations. Had the study included data on the total number of outbreaks reported in the Foodborne Disease Outbreak Surveillance System from conventional products, the conclusion likely would have been that outbreaks due to organic products happen much less frequently than their conventional counterparts. It is important to note that organic growers must comply with a multitude of safety regulations in addition to local, state, and federal standards, and that organic also provides a suite of other health benefits such as reduced pesticide residue exposure and reduced development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Read the full response


Correcting the record in flawed USA Today Op-Ed

August 15, 2016

An Op-Ed entitled “Organic food is great business, but a bad investment” by Bjorn Lomborg published in USA Today prompted a letter to the editor from The Organic Center that appeared in a subsequent edition. In the response published in the Opinion section, The Center’s Director of Science Programs Dr. Jessica Shade points out that the Op-Ed ignored the scientific evidence supporting the multitude of benefits of choosing an organic diet. Her letter calls out inaccuracies in the piece and cites the most up-to-date scientific literature demonstrating that organic food has an advantageous nutritional profile and allows consumers to avoid exposure to dangerous chemicals and antibiotic-resistant bacteria while supporting a healthy environment.

Read the full response
 


OTA responds to Alliance for Food and Farming

July 25, 2016

On Monday, July 25, 2016 Food Safety News republished an OpEd from the Alliance for Food and Farming describing a “messaging evolution” that painted an incomplete picture of the Organic Trade Association’s advice to retailers. OTA’s CEO, Laura Batcha noted that positive messages about what organic means are the most resonant with mainstream shoppers, but that retailers should not shy away from differentiating their organic offerings. 

Read the full response


OTA response to Los Angeles Times opinion piece
by Henry I. Miller

July 5, 2016

On June 30, 2016, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece by Henry I. Miller titled "Stop worrying about GMOs; it's that organic granola bar that could make you sick." The piece drew criticism for its "highly selective examples of supposed safety violations" and the fact that it "fails to mention the many studies that link GMOs to serious digestive and reproductive diseases in livestock." The Los Angeles Times published OTA's response, which contests Miller's representation of organic farming techniques as outdated. In the response, OTA CEO Laura Batcha noted,

"Organic’s so-called “19th century farming methods” are innovative and science-based, and have a clear eye on the healthy and sustainable future of our planet." 

Read the full response


The Packer publishes OTA response to opinion piece on transitional organic program

January 8, 2016

The Packer’s editorial board opinion piece "Dump transitional organic program" published on December 28 was disappointing and reflected this distinguished publication’s lack of awareness of the pressures currently facing the organic sector. On January 8, the Packer published OTA CEO and Executive Director, Laura Batcha's, reply under the headline, "The real risk to organic is lack of production."

OTA is considering a voluntary organic transitional certification program as a way to address the fact that U.S. organic supply is not keeping up with organic demand and more domestic organic acreage is needed. It is critical that more support be provided for growers who want to transition to organic to increase domestic organic production. To learn more, contact OTA's Director of Media Relations, Maggie McNeil

Read the full response


newsweekOTA response to Newsweek Opinion piece by Henry I. Miller

October 6, 2015

Once again, an opinion piece by Henry Miller paints an inaccurate picture of organic practices and regulation, and makes assertions not founded on fact. A case in point: Mr. Miller makes the statement that organic agriculture is kept afloat only by massive subsidies and nurtured by a plethora of USDA programs. This statement is an upside down look at reality.

Here are the facts:  Conventional farmers receive almost $5 billion in direct payments from the government every year. Federal crop insurance payments total in the billions, reaching $16 billion in 2013 alone because of the Midwestern drought. The only “subsidy”—if you want to call it that—for organic is a cost-share program that helps organic producers offset the financial burden of getting certified to ensure that the USDA Organic label means something consumers can trust—something conventional farmers do not have to do. In addition, USDA does not make quality claims about organic beyond that "organic is an option for farmers."

Read the full response


OTA applauds EPA steps to safeguard health of farmworkers

October 1, 2015

The Organic Trade Association and The Organic Center applaud the steps that the EPA has taken to safeguard the health of farmworkers, who are essential for putting food on our tables. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced updates to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) designed to minimize farmworker exposure to harmful pesticides nationwide. These include prohibiting children from handling or applying pesticides, establishing no-entry and exclusion zones to protect farm workers and others from pesticide drift, and improving requirements on personal protective equipment.

Read the full response


organic food recalls, OTA responds

OTA responds to Stericycle press release on organic food recalls

August 20, 2015

On Thursday, August 20, 2015, the New York Times published “Recalls of Organic Food on the Rise, Report Says” by reporter Stephanie Strom. The story focused on data collected by Stericycle, a company that manages product recalls for businesses, which pointed to an increase in the number of recalls of organic food products. Stericycle publishes an “Expert Recall Index” on a quarterly basis, a product that they sell and that they put out a press release on. The press release in question is misleading, as it lumps organic with other products that do not share similar properties and overstates the recall percentages for organic foods.

Read the full response


ForbesOrganic is the gold standard

August 5, 2015

The July 29 article “The Colossal Hoax of Organic Agriculture" in Forbes paints an inaccurate picture of the organic regulations. Despite what Mr. Miller inaccurately claims in “The Colossal Hoax of Organic Agriculture,” organic operations certified to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program regulations set the gold standard for our food and fiber.U.S. organic production practices adhere to a set of strict regulations. This includes a National List of Allowed and Prohibited Materials. Under a Sunset Review Process, non-organic inputs allowed in organic farming and handling under certain restrictions must be reviewed every five years, to provide an opportunity to remove them from the National List if they fail the criteria outlined in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA).

Read the full response


OTA corrects inaccuracies and helps paint a more complete picture in response to recent blog post

March 20, 2015

The March 15 post “14 facts the organic industry doesn’t want you to know” on dontwastethecrumbs.com contains many inaccurate and misleading statements about organic. First and foremost, it’s important to know that organic is the most heavily regulated, transparent, and closely monitored food system in the United States. Unlike other eco-labels, the organic label is backed by a set of rigorous federal production and processing standards. These standards have been developed through a transparent process involving the National Organic Program, the National Organic Standards Board (a citizen advisory group), industry representatives and the public, to provide traceability from the farm to table, and to ensure that you and your family can have confidence in the organic products you buy. There is nothing “the organic industry doesn’t want you to know.” More than any other part of the global food system, organic is an open book.

Read More


The Wall Street Journal publishes OTA's 'Letter to the Editor'

December 21, 2014

On December 9, the Wall Street Journal published an article “Organic-Farming Boom Stretches Certification System,” which throws into question the thoroughness of the certification system of the U.S. organic industry. On Dec. 21 the Journal published OTA CEO and Executive Director, Laura Batcha's, Letter to the Editor under the headline "The 'Organic' label Means What it Says."

The fact is that the U.S. certified organic system is a production and processing system that reflects and adheres to the strictest government standards of any in the agricultural sector. 

Regarding Caelainn Barr’s “Boom in Organic Farming Outpaces Regulator” the U.S. certified organic system reflects and adheres to the strictest government standards of any in the agricultural sector, and is the most sincere and substantive reform of industrial food, fiber and agriculture available anywhere in the globe. Read more...

OTA members looking for detailed information to address the false and misleading claims in this article should download OTA’s fact sheet or contact Maggie McNeil, OTA's Director of Media Relations.

OTA’s fact sheet on WSJ organic certification article


Response to “Think your milk and eggs are ‘organic’?
These aerial farm photos will make you think again” 

December 11, 2014

Regardless of whether there is a red barn in the background or not, all organic cows must graze on pasture and all organic poultry must have access to the outdoors. 

On December 11, The Washington Post published an article entitled “Think your milk and eggs are ‘organic’? These aerial farm photos will make you think again.” In addition to engaging directly with the reporter to correct misleading information about organic regulations and NOP complaint procedure, OTA has submitted the following statement to The Washington Post in response:

All certified organic livestock and poultry are raised in operations that comply with the organic regulations and that are regularly inspected by their third party accredited certifiers.  Regardless of whether there is a red barn in the background or not, all organic cows must graze on pasture and all organic poultry must have access to the outdoors.  Aerial fly-over photos do not verify compliance, and that is why certifiers use boots-on-the-ground inspections and records verification to ensure adherence to the organic standards.

Anyone has the right to submit a complaint to the National Organic Program if they have reason to suspect a violation.  Every one of those complaints is investigated by USDA and the operation’s certifier.  We continue to have confidence in the oversight of organic operations and in the checks and balances built into the organic certification system which includes regular inspections of operations, regular accreditation audits of certifiers, and complaint investigation procedures.

The organic industry steadfastly supports a continuously improving system, encourages self-examination and welcomes sound regulations to improve the sector.

OTA members who would like to connect directly on this issue should download OTA's Fact Sheet or contact Maggie McNeil, OTA's Director of Media Relations.

OTA's Fact Sheet addressing Washington Post article


Tell the truth about organic, Mr. Block

October 10, 2014

On October 7, the Des Moines Register published a column by former Secretary of Agriculture John Block that erroneously asserted that organic food is unsafe. In response, OTA’s CEO and Executive Director Laura Batcha prepared a rebuttal and pointed out how organic is subject to the strictest government standards of any in the agricultural sector. Her response to the unsubstantiated charges appeared in an op-ed, which the paper carried prominently in both its online and print issues on Friday. Batcha noted that attempts to delegitimize organic will not deter us from working to improve our food and agricultural system and ultimately move all agriculture forward towards increased sustainability.—Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, is when the rebuttal appeared.

Read the full response


Rebuttal to “Five myths about organic food” opinion piece

June 24, 2014

An opinion piece entitled “Five myths about organic food” written by Peter Laufer and published in the June 23 Washington Post ignores many important details about organic that support the very claims he is trying to refute. Even a cursory investigation of the research and regulations supporting organic reinforces the benefits of organic agriculture, The Organic Center noted, posting a comment to the article and linking to a more complete rebuttal posted on its website.

Read the full response


The Center responds to narrow Bloomberg viewpoint

June 9, 2014

The Organic Center has posted a response to “Organic Isn’t Clean and It Isn’t Toxin-free,” published last week as an opinion piece in Bloomberg View. The response points out how this piece is narrow, incomplete and largely an uninformed view of the benefits of organic farming. For example, the nitrate leaching study referenced in the article only looked only at intensive greenhouse production, and cannot be used to draw conclusions about field agriculture. In fact, most studies that examine nutrient runoff show that organic production methods result in reduced nitrogen losses when compared to conventional. 

Read the full response


Response to “Is organic better for your health?”

April 8, 2014

While The Washington Post article “Is organic better for your health?” touches on some interesting topics, the conclusions about the lack of differences in health benefits between organic and conventional are misguided. The nutritional advantages of organic versus conventional dairy and produce based on large-scale literature reviews and meta-analyses are dismissed without looking at well-constructed research targeting specific crops and benefits.  Also, the multitude of studies showing the health problems associated with pesticide exposure, especially when it comes to children and pregnant women, are glossed over.  Additionally, overlooked are the dangers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and how organic animal products can help prevent such exposure. The Organic Center's response provides a closer look at a rundown of each category – and the areas not included in the analysis.

Read the full response


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