Close This Organic Certification Loophole

A shortcut to organic farming. Source: Bloomberg

Since Sunday I have been thinking about what to plant, and how, with regard to our Escazu coffee regeneration project. Questions related to genetics are fundamental to agriculture, even if genetic engineering is controversial. I am only considering hybrids, not genetically engineered coffee varietals. We will use no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers,  nor have any been used on this land in nearly three decades, so our coffee will be grown according to organic standards. Whether we seek USDA certification is a topic for a later date.

But I am a proponent of organic certification. Not every farmer can afford it but if they could I would hope they consider it. That said, like any certification, there can be bugs in the system. Thanks to Amanda Little (whose work we first linked to five years ago, and again when her book was published) for investigating and bringing this to our attention, with the help of Bloomberg. It would seem to go without saying, but perhaps we all need to shout it out:

Organic Farming Should Protect Nature, Not Destroy It

A USDA loophole that allows farmers to cut down forests and clear grasslands to win faster certification should have been closed years ago.

Sustainable agriculture is having its political moment.

The Biden administration deserves credit for being the first to recognize that food system reforms can go a long way toward solving the climate crisis. Yet for all its big-picture vision, some critical details are getting overlooked. A big one is a loophole within the USDA’s National Organic Program that undermines its mission and impedes the nation’s path toward climate-smart agriculture.

The rule glitch has the effect of encouraging farmers to cut down native forests and grasses so the land can be used to grow organic crops — a net loss for the environment. Despite the advantages of organic farming over conventional practices, pristine ecological habitats are vastly better from a climate and biodiversity standpoint than any form of agriculture.

Early in his presidency, Joe Biden vowed he would “position American agriculture to lead our nation and the world in combating climate change.” And he’s making an effort to deliver. With 92 votes, the Senate recently passed the Biden-backed “Growing Climate Solutions Act,” which aims to help farmers and ranchers participate in markets so they can get paid to sequester carbon in their soil. Meanwhile, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has introduced a “Climate-Smart Forestry and Agriculture Strategy” and is sinking $4 billion into production practices that include $500 million for small and mid-size local meat producers to compete with Big Ag, and new funding to expand organic agriculture.

These are wise investments. Small, distributed producers support nimble supply chains in an era of increasing environment disruption; organic farms improve soil health — and healthier soil draws down more carbon…

Read the whole article here.

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