Soapbox

California needs to streamline rules on organic farms

Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard, walks through the 120-acre organic estate vineyard near Paso Robles in November. Organic farmers are calling for state regulations to be updated and streamlined.
Jason Haas, general manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard, walks through the 120-acre organic estate vineyard near Paso Robles in November. Organic farmers are calling for state regulations to be updated and streamlined. Los Angeles Times

Organic is the only style of farming I’ve ever known. My parents farmed organically before I was born and long before the term became mainstream. Now, California organic farmers must compete with organic producers all over the world.

If we want to ensure that the Golden State continues to be the heart of the farm-to-fork movement, California must reform and streamline its outdated organic regulatory system. This is why I support Assembly Bill 1826, the California Organic Food and Farming Act, which may be heard in committee Thursday.

More than two decades ago, California farmers partnered with the state to regulate organics. This effort planted the seeds for organics to become an $8.2 billion industry in the state and a whopping 40 percent of the entire U.S. organic market.

When the federal government stepped in and created the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program, we were skeptical. We weren’t ready to hand over the reins to an industry we nurtured and grew, but today the national program regulates all organic product sold in the U.S.

Over the last 15 years, the National Organic Program has proved effective for consumers and producers. More American families buy organic today than ever because they trust the integrity of the organic label, that no matter where a product labeled as organic was produced or sold it meets national standards.

California, however, retains an outdated state organic program. The fees, duplicative paperwork and unnecessary requirements put California producers at a competitive disadvantage. Since taking over my family’s farm 15 years ago, I’ve been required to report the same information on crops, yield and operations to three separate state agencies and one independent certifying agency to obtain an organic label.

No other state requires a state-level organic fee that provides no extra assurance to consumers. When I was elected to the board of the California Certified Organic Farmers, I found thousands of farmers are struggling with these same requirements that provide no benefits to shoppers.

AB 1826 is a solution to an outdated system. It would enable California farmers to be successful, while protecting consumers and growing the economy. The bill maintains a state organic program but lowers the enforcement cost to certified organic producers and allows the state to partner with farmers to advance organic agriculture.

AB 1826 levels the playing field for California’s organic farmers. Without it, we will continue to pay unfair fees and cope with dizzying paperwork that farmers in every other state don’t face.

There is no group of people who wish to maintain the integrity of the certified organic label more than farmers. The distinction is our lifeblood and the foundation of trust with our consumers that is critical to our economic survival. AB 1826 will ensure that we maintain that integrity in California and help us become an even stronger sector of the California economy.

Thaddeus Barsotti is owner of Capay Organic and a board member of California Certified Organic Farmers. He can be contacted at thaddeus@capayorganic.com.

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