By: Larissa Scott | Posted at 8:04 AM, Apr 17, 2023 | and last updated 8:04 AM, Apr 17, 2023
TAMPA, Fla. — For years, organic farmers across the country have been fighting for stricter rules to keep the integrity of their practice front and center.
“I got into it for environmental reasons. I thought it was important for a whole bunch of reasons to grow local food,” said Travis Malloy.
Malloy is the co-owner of Meacham Urban Farm. He’s dedicated his life to organic farming.
“We take it really serious, the organic standards,” he said.
Getting Meacham Urban Farm up and running in downtown Tampa was no easy feat.
“We put a lot of time and labor into getting it started,” said Malloy
That’s one of the reasons why he’s supportive of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new, stricter rules on organic farming—even if the regulations don’t directly impact a smaller farm like his.
“It affects us in that way that we expect organic farming to be taken very serious,” said Malloy.
The USDA is now enforcing the biggest update to organic regulations since 1990.
This update is providing a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to reinforce the trust of consumers, farmers, and those transitioning to organic production
“There can be all kinds of problems in the supply chain from farm to table. There can be lots of different places where things can go off if they’re not being properly regulated if the inspections aren’t being done right,” said Dr. David Berger with Wholistic Pediatrics & Family Care.
Officials are also using this to crack down on fraud.
“There has been a lot of unfortunate fraudulent activity where people think that they are getting organic food and they’re not,” said Berger.
“You don’t want people breaking the rules and getting away with this, cashing in on something that’s supposed to have integrity. If too much of that happens, it ruins the integrity of the entire movement if nobody can trust the label and they start thinking it’s not worth the extra money to buy that, and they don’t see it as different from the conventional stuff. It wrecks the credibility,” said Malloy.
The USDA claims the new rules will strengthen oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products.
Key updates include requiring standardized certificates of organic operations, uniform qualification and training standards for organic inspectors and certifying agent personnel, and increasing authority for more rigorous, on-site inspections.
“Having that [certified organic] label on there, that means something and that that was verified is incredibly important,” said Malloy.
This is something advocates have been working on for 10 years.
“It’s been our top priority to increase organic integrity,” said Kate Mendenhall, Executive Director of the Organic Farmers Association.
That’s because it takes a lot of work to produce something that’s organic.
“It is a lot of extra effort, especially in the beginning, not taking the shortcuts of using synthetic pesticides and herbicides to take care of problems but going about it in a more natural way,” said Malloy.
“Organic farmers throughout the U.S. really do a great job of following strict regulations that are voluntary. They do a lot on their farms and it really matters that the product that consumers see in the grocery store or at the market is really organic,” said Mendenhall.
She said these new guidelines are a problem solver for several issues.
“It requires different members of the supply chain that weren’t having to be certified organic to now be certified so that we can better track the whole supply chain from farm to end users,” said Mendenhall.
“This will really elevate the organic program and strengthens the marketplace here in the United States so that when you see organic, it is going to mean that that is certified organic,” she added.
Whether you’re buying from a grocery store or directly from a farm— big or small, advocates hope this move will build better confidence with consumers.
“It’s incredibly important that they can trust the label that they’re getting. Luckily here at Meacham, we sell right from the farm so people can come and see what we’re doing. We call it consumer inspection,” said Malloy.
The new USDA rules went into effect in March. Organic farmers, certifying agents, and organic stakeholders affected by this have one year to comply with the changes.