ence in regulations so domestic production can export. OTA has always led the
efforts to try to harmonize the regulations and encourage equivalency, but that
is not an easy thing to do. If we don’t pay attention to effective domestic production, more and more production is going to go overseas.
OTA Board President,
Senior Vice President of Quality Assurance International
OTA Founding Member and Board President, 1995–1996
What were the biggest challenges and victories for OTA?
In the beginning, there were some key decisions OFPANA
made that helped the organic industry grow over the last 25
years. First, the board decided early in the game that we
would base organic on third-party, independent certification. This created the
foundation for the industry. Natural foods, nutrition supplements, the Ameri-
can Herbal Product Association—none of these industries moved until just re-
cently to have a third-party verification system.
There are two other decisions that are still discussed today. When we first
started writing the standard, we tried to include social justice and fair trade and
finally decided that organic was tough
enough to define by itself. We agreed
that the focus needed to be on organic
agriculture. That’s what organic
means—how something is grown. The
other decision was about processing
and whether or not we should allow
more processed items like white sugar
to be certified. People thought that if it
was organic it had to be healthy, but
once again, the focus for organic was
on planetary health, not always personal health. We also realized that
defining “minimal processing” was an
impossible task. Organic cookies may
not really be good for you, but you
have that choice and no matter what,
the organic option is better for the
planet that we all live on. From a historical perspective, it was important to focus on agriculture—not healthy food,
not social justice. These issues are all important, but they need their own standards and sets of metrics.
President of Sustainable Strategies
OTA Board President, 1994–1995
“One need only look to the recent
U.S.–Canada Organic Trade Agreement
to know that OTA plays a pivotal role
in fostering international organic trade.
OTA’s extraordinary efforts in this landmark agreement assured the free flow
of trade between the world’s two
largest agricultural trading partners.
Bravo, OTA! Promoting international
trade and facilitating trade agreements
is one of the most important arenas
where OTA can work to encourage and
make it possible for OTA members,
producers and processors to continue
to enjoy access to, and ingredients
from, the global marketplace.”
What is important to keep in mind as we move forward?
With the office in D.C., OTA is now well positioned. They are also doing a fabulous job educating consumers through social media. The old media model is
expensive, but now through Twitter and Facebook, we can get the word out.
Everything is changing and OTA is poised to take advantage of those changes.
Organic businesses need to get behind these programs and support OTA. People need to pay their fair share, not as a charity but as an investment in OTA.
There are lots of people riding the wave of organic that are benefiting but not
putting back into it, either in terms of money or volunteering their time.
You were president of
the OTA during the
first proposed rule and the final rule.
What was this like?
When I became president, we decided
to start having meetings across the
U.S.—bringing in all the people interested in organic to decide what the organic regulation should include. At
the same time, we visited overseas to
talk to the Europeans about what kind
of reciprocity and similarities we had
in our standards to try to make sure
that there was consistency. That’s how
we came up with the American Organic Standard, which was used as a
blueprint for the NOP.
But when the government finally
put out the first proposed rule, it did
not prohibit irradiation, GMOs or
sewage sludge, and there was a huge
outcry in the organic community. OTA
worked with consumer and environmental groups to get the word out and
because of that hundreds of thousands
of people wrote letters in opposition to
the rule and the USDA ended up
In creating the standard, there was
a lot of frustration and it took a long
time, but it was completely volunteer.
Not only were we trying to grow our
businesses, but we were spending every
spare minute volunteering to put this
standard together. There was a lot of
excitement and passion. We were taking a movement and turning it into
something that had the power to make
One of your roles was to build relationships in D.C.—can you tell us about this?
Even before I was president, I was always
on the Governmental Affairs Board for
OTA and spent a lot of time in D.C.