National Organic Coalition, Organic Farmers Association Ask Congress to Protect Food and Agriculture During Pandemic

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Washington, D.C. – May 8, 2020 —The National Organic Coalition (NOC) and Organic Farmers Association (OFA) called on Congress yesterday to include provisions in the next coronavirus relief package to help organic farmers, farmworkers, retailers, certifiers, and other businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic. Like all sectors of agriculture, organic operations are in crisis.   

In a five-page letter, NOC and OFA detailed their recommendations to ensure that organic farms and businesses have the support they need to withstand the challenges they face during this difficult period. Organic farms and businesses are on the front lines and face major disruptions, including loss of critically important markets and labor challenges. These operations are adapting, but in some cases face skyrocketing expenses as they invest in equipment, technology, sanitation, staffing, and transportation to keep employees safe, to access markets, and to provide safe and nutritious food to communities.  

NOC and OFA are seeking funding and technical assistance to help operations protect the health and safety of all who are involved in organic agriculture, certification and compliance. In addition, NOC and OFA are advocating for actions that will prevent fraud and protect the integrity of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic seal during the crisis.

“Despite the challenges we face, the USDA must move forward without delay on the Strengthening Organic Enforcement and Origin of Livestock rules to provide a level playing field for organic operations,” said Abby Youngblood, Executive Director of the National Organic Coalition. “NOC is calling on Congress to ensure that USDA moves forward in closing loopholes to prevent fraud and to protect organic dairy operations. These regulations are critical to the economic viability of organic farms and businesses and are needed to ensure consumers are getting what they expect when they purchase organic products.”

In addition, the letter conveys concerns that the direct payment mechanism announced by USDA to implement the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will not reach organic and diversified farms and those serving local markets.

“We are concerned that the payment formulas used by USDA to distribute payments will shortchange organic farmers, particularly small-and-medium-scale diversified operations that have been economically impacted by the pandemic,” said Kate Mendenhall, Director of the Organic Farmers Association. “We are asking Congress, in the next coronavirus response package, to be more explicit about providing direct assistance to organic and diversified farms and to establish oversight procedures to ensure USDA compliance with the requirements.”

As an emergency measure, NOC and OFA are requesting that Congress authorize USDA to reimburse certification agencies directly for organic certification costs during the pandemic, rather than requiring organic operations to pay these costs and then seek partial reimbursement through the organic certification cost-share program.

Farms and food-related businesses have been designated as essential by the Department of Homeland Security and by most states. NOC and OFA agree with that designation, but are seeking federally funded pay bonuses for front line food system and grocery workers and emergency grants to reimburse these businesses for expenses related to personal protection equipment (PPE) and pandemic-related facility, infrastructure, technology, and staffing modifications.

We urge Congress to increase funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to allow SNAP payments to be made online directly to farms, CSAs, and cooperative and independent grocery stores, and to provide waivers and direction to States to broaden their WIC-approved food lists to allow WIC participants to purchase organic foods.

Funding for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) programs has proven critical to organic farms and businesses. This funding should be replenished, and Congress should direct SBA to expand farmers’ access to both the PPP and EIDL program.  

The full letter from NOC and OFA with detailed recommendations is available online:

https://app.box.com/s/khg95otgoko01huy63nthfa04pingn4w