Organic scare tactics? Dealing with fraud and Philly's burst of green.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Jennifer Duffield White Subscribe

Organic Scare Tactics
Organic Fraud Task Formed
Leopold Center Struggles
Good News: Philly’s Parks

Step One of WOTUS: Old Definition is Back

In late June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Army, and Army Corps of Engineers made public their proposal to rescind the Clean Water Rule and also re-codify the regulatory text that existed prior to 2015 defining "waters of the United States" or WOTUS. That move came as expected after President Trump’s executive order on February 28, 2017, which asked the agencies to reevaluate and reconsider the rule. 

Not sure what’s going on? WOTUS is a term that’s used in several EPA programs, as well as the Clean Water Act of 1972, but there was never a clear-cut definition for what qualified as WOTUS and what “navigable waters” included. It caused a lot of legal problems. The EPA and Corps wrote a 2015 Clean Water Rule to clarify the issue. But it didn’t go so well. States sued for overreach. Others sued, saying it removed safeguards for clean water. Agriculture lobbied hard against it. And there was a lot of conflicting information floating around. Eventually, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit stayed the 2015 rule, and folks have been operating under the definition used prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule. (Get a more in-depth view of the issue in this April 2017 GrowerTalks article.)

For the interim, the agencies are now preparing to publish a rule in the federal register that will simply recodify that same regulatory text used prior to the Clean Water Rule (and which is now being used anyhow due to the stay of the rule). (You can read the pre-publication version of it HERE.)

However, that’s just a step one placeholder, if you will. (Remember, this old definition wasn’t clear enough, and the EPA was constantly landing in court because of it.) The agencies say they plan to completely re-evaluate and revise the definition of WOTUS as they move forward. 

Do Low-Income Shoppers Fear Pesticides?

Here’s a study that is creating a sharp talking point for some in the ag industry.
The study, from the Illinois Institute of Technology, published in Nutrition Today, looked at the attitudes of 510 low-income shoppers toward conventional and organic fruits and vegetables. As expected, they identified cost as a significant barrier to organic produce. However, participants said they preferred organic. And 61% felt that the media encouraged them to buy organic.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. The study said that “Informational statements about organic and conventional FV (fruits and vegetables) did not increase participants' likelihood to purchase more FV.” But when participants were presented with a message pairing a specific produce item with a pesticide (such as the Dirty Dozen list) it made participants “less likely” to purchase any type of fruit or vegetable regardless of whether it was organically or conventionally grown.

That might be a bit of a hard pill to swallow for those who love to promote the “Dirty Dozen” list. The Environmental Working Group, which publishes the list, says that the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and veggies outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. But that may not be the message everyone hears. In fact, Produce Retailer ran this article, which blames pro-organic groups for scaring low-income consumers away from fresh produce by making them scared of pesticides associated with conventional produce. 

Organic Fraud Task Force Formed

The success of organic also brings problems. Most recently there was the case of 16,250 metric tons of soybeans that had traveled from Ukraine, to Turkey, to the U.S. According to The Washington Post, these soybeans were billed as conventional soybeans, were fumigated as such, and then before arriving in the U.S., suddenly became USDA certified organic, which added $4 million to their value. Other crops were also being imported fraudulently.

It’s not a story that makes consumers confident about the integrity of the organic label. Thus, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) has decided to set up a Global Organic Supply Chain Integrity Task Force. They’ve been mandated with developing a best practice guide to use in managing and verifying global organic supply chain integrity to help brands and traders manage and mitigate the risk and occurrence of organic fraud. In addition, OTA has come out with a platform for the 2018 Farm Bill that addresses some of these issues.

Also in reaction to the recent fraud cases, the National Organic Program has decided to increase the frequency and types of notices they post about enforcement actions. And a few certifying agencies are starting to set new policies for certain commodities.
Read more HERE.

Update on the Struggling Leopold Center

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture had a rough spring, and they’re still reeling from it while trying to figure out how to proceed after losing most of their funding. They recently announced the end of their grant program, staff reduction and more.

Back in May, the Iowa legislature passed legislation to defund the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and also simultaneously ordered the center, housed at Iowa State University, to close by July of this year. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad did a line veto to the closure of the center, but signed the rest of the bill. This left the Leopold Center, which has a 30-year history of leading the industry in sustainable agriculture research, without the majority of its funding.

Many of the active research projects will continue under the umbrella of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center (INRC), if appropriate, and others will be allowed to finish. But newly awarded grants for FY2018 are either cancelled or moving to the INRC. They say their competitive grants program will cease and staff will not be retained. The center’s director, Mark Rasmussen, will stay on part time.

With only a shell of an organization left, what happens next? They say they will create a visioning task force and hold listening sessions to figure out the future direction of the center.

More details can be found in what they call their “final quarterly newsletter.” 

The Good News: Philly’s Parks

Let's end on a positive note.

When cities embrace their green spaces, the impact can be far-reaching. Philadelphia is one such city. They committed to reinvigorating public places with Philadelphia’s Civic Commons campaign. The idea being that if you improve public places—like parks and libraries—it will boost opportunities socially and economically. (Much of the initiative is paid for by the city’s tax on sodas.)

They’re giving the people of Philadelphia better access to nature and green spaces. If you’re there, check out the Discovery Center, the Rail Park, Bartram’s Garden, or Centennial Commons.

While Bartram’s Garden, the oldest botanical center in the Americas, is known among gardening enthusiasts, it now has a new base of fans—including lower-income people in the area who can explore their new riverside walking and bike path.

And according to this article, physicians in Philly are now prescribing park visits to local children. Sounds like a win-win.

Until next time,

Jennifer Duffield White 

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