Senate Agriculture Spending Bill Requires Action on Origin of Livestock

Washington, D.C. – September 19, 2019 — Today the Senate Appropriations Committee passed Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Agriculture Appropriations legislation, with provisions to strengthen organic integrity.

The bill would boost funding for the National Organic Program (NOP) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to $15 million annually, a $1 million increase over last year’s funding level. The NOP is responsible for overseeing the growing organic industry, which stands at more than $52 billion in sales annually in the U.S. There are more than 42,800 organic farms and operations in 148 countries. The NOP is charged with ensuring that the USDA organic standards are enforced in a uniform way around the globe and investigating complaints of fraud. The increase in funding recognizes the need for continued work to strengthen enforcement procedures domestically and internationally to safeguard the integrity of the organic label.

The bill also includes a provision to level the playing field for organic dairy producers. It would require USDA to issue a final regulation on ‘Origin of Livestock’ – the rules for how conventional dairy cows are transitioned into organic herds – within 180 days of enactment. An identical provision was included in House agriculture spending legislation for FY2020, which passed on June 25, 2019.

“There have been longstanding abuses within the organic dairy sector. USDA has allowed organic dairy operations to make use of loopholes to continuously bring conventional animals into organic dairy herds,” said Ed Maltby, Executive Director at the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. “Operations making use of these loopholes have distorted the market for organic milk with rapid expansion of cow numbers and have created an economic disadvantage for organic farmers who play by the rules.”

“The National Organic Coalition applauds the Senate Appropriations Committee for its leadership to bring an end to abuse within the organic dairy sector,” said Abby Youngblood, Executive Director of the National Organic Coalition. “Without new regulations to level the playing field, we will see continued consolidation within organic dairy and the demise of many family-scale organic dairy operations. The requirement that USDA finalize the ‘Origin of Livestock’ rules for organic dairy, in combination with a boost in funding for the USDA’s National Organic Program, will lead to a much stronger organic label.”

Consumer trust in the organic seal depends on USDA’s ability to keep up with growth in the organic marketplace, to stamp out fraudulent organic imports, and to ensure that all operations play by the same rules.

The FY 20 agriculture spending legislation that passed in the House earlier this year included a boost in funding for organic and sustainable agriculture research to help farms become more productive, efficient, and profitable. The Senate bill, however, maintains but does not increase funding for two critical programs: the Organic Transitions Program is funded at $6 million annually and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is funded at $37 million annually.

While the House bill included a provision to block USDA from moving the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) out of Washington, D.C., the Senate bill funds the relocation. NOC is opposed to the move because we believe it undermines the critical research conducted by these two federal agencies, including research on trends in the organic sector, and is resulting in the loss of highly experienced staff who have chosen not to move with the agencies.

NOC would like to thank Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Leahy (D-VT), Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Hoeven (R-ND), Ranking Member Merkley (D-OR), and Subcommittee Members Collins (R-ME), Baldwin (D-WI), and Tester (D-MT) for their leadership in securing these key wins for organic farmers, consumers, and businesses. 

Congress is significantly behind schedule in getting new funding bills passed and signed into law before the end of the current fiscal year at midnight on September 30. With only a few legislative days left, a short-term funding bill (or “Continuing Resolution) is in the works to prevent a government shutdown and extend FY 2019 spending levels until Congress can pass, and the President signs, final spending legislation for FY2020. Today’s action brings us one step closer to that final legislation. After passage by the full Senate, the House and Senate will need to reconcile differences between their two spending packages in Conference Committee.

About the National Organic Coalition:

The National Organic Coalition (NOC) is a national alliance of organizations working to provide a "Washington voice" for farmers, ranchers, conservationists, consumers and industry members involved in organic agriculture. NOC seeks to advance organic food and agriculture and ensure a united voice for organic integrity, which means strong, enforceable, and continuously improved standards. The coalition works to assure that policies are fair, equitable, and encourage diversity of participation and access.

Abby Youngblood