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A Call for an Organic Checkoff


Organic is a big seller in today’s supermarkets, and this trend is here to stay. No longer available only at farmers’ markets or specialty stores, organic labels and even organic store brands are now available at local grocery stores, and customers are digging a little deeper into their wallets to purchase such items.

In 2014, U.S. sales of organic foods and nonfoods are estimated to have hit nearly $40 billion, a new record. More than 80 percent of U.S. families now buy organic products. Conventional grocery stores are seeing double-digit growth rates in their organic aisles. Despite this growing appetite, however, consumers continue to be confused not just about all of the benefits and guarantees of organic, but also by all of the other labels and unregulated claims on food throughout the supermarket.

The organic sector is at a critical juncture. We now have the incredible opportunity — and, more importantly, the need — to better explain what organic stands for and, in so doing, take organic sales and stores’ revenues to even higher levels. America’s certified-organic stakeholders — farmers, ranchers, distributors, food makers and retailers — are now considering whether to adopt a national organic checkoff program.

Consumer Confusion, Empty Shelves

An organic research and promotion checkoff program would be a game changer for the entire organic sector. It would address the industry’s two major challenges: consumer confusion about what it means to be organic, and the need to increase organic supplies so retailers don’t get caught short as their customers clamor for more organic choices.

An organic checkoff program would enable a large, coordinated promotion plan to educate consumers. Attention-getting promotions on television, on social media, in newspaper fliers, on billboards, and via in-store ads, activities and customer education days — the options are endless! A checkoff would clear up the current consumer misunderstanding; drive trust in organic; further fuel the growth of the organic sector, as more consumers would seek out organic products; and drive store revenue. It would also fund research to encourage farmers to transition to organic, ultimately increasing supplies.

Organic food companies and retail stores face shortages of organic ingredients and products every year because domestic organic production just can’t keep up with the robust demand for organic. To prevent your store’s organic egg shelves from standing empty, or your having to put a “temporarily out of supplies” sign on the door of your organic milk case, we need more organic farmers in America.

An organic checkoff program could raise up to an estimated $40 million annually through a collective fund to which all organic stakeholders could contribute. It’s proposed that organic certificate holders in the supply chain with gross annual sales above $250,000 be assessed for one-tenth of 1 percent of net organic revenue, with a maximum $1,000 assessment for every $1 million in net organic revenue.

The Organic Trade Association (OTA), the principal trade group for the organic sector, has taken the lead in formulating the checkoff proposal, and will soon submit an application for an organic checkoff to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This proposal will ultimately be voted on by certified-organic stakeholders.

The Vision is Still Clear

All of the organic chain must act collectively to ensure our future. If organic stakeholders want to take the industry to a new level of success and sustainability, now’s the time to act.

The organic sector was founded by visionaries who believed in a better, more healthy and sustainable way to raise food and be the stewards of our precious land. Putting in place an organic checkoff program is the most powerful way to make this vision a reality.

For more information on the proposed checkoff, visit

Retail stores face shortages of organic products every year because domestic organic production just can’t keep up with the robust demand for organic.

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