OTA Conference to Tackle Big Issues

The Organic Trade Association's (OTA) Annual Policy Conference, set to kick off Wednesday, May 21 at the Newseum, in Washington, D.C., promises plenty of food for thought.

"Organic has become one of the top seals recognized by consumers, and by all indications consumers will continue to drive the organic industry forward," said Laura Batcha, executive director and CEO of Brattleboro, Vt.-based OTA. "By coming together in Washington, D.C., organic is taking its seat at the table in the halls of Congress and the Department of Agriculture."

"Organic food and farming is a diverse sector of 18,000 hard-working businesses, with 81 percent of organic farm sales going into the wholesale value chain," noted Melody Meyer, chair of OTA's board of directors and VP policy & industry relations at Providence, R.I.-based organic distributor United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI). "Even with 3,000 farms in transition to organic production, more are needed to power organic forward. Now is a great time for new farmers to join us."

OTA's speakers and the 175-plus attendees expected at the conference will discuss the many issues relating to organic food.

USDA Well Represented

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who led the passage by her committee earlier this year of a farm bill containing provisions aiding the organic industry, will receive the OTA Public Servant Award on May 21 from Whole Foods Market co-CEO Walter Robb for her long support of organic.

Also on May 21, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will share his views about the future of organic and its role in American agriculture, joined by officials from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service, Risk Management Service, Foreign Agricultural Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and National Organic Program, along with sister agency the Federal Trade Commission.

Batcha will discuss OTA's most recent industry and consumer surveys, and present the organization's annual state of the industry report, while the newly formed Farmers Advisory Council will address the supply challenges faced by organic farmers, ranchers and growers.

Additionally Kesang Tshomo, the National Organic Programme coordinator for the kingdom of Bhutan, will speak about his tiny country's goal of converting to 100 percent organic agriculture, the first nation in the world to do so.

Those interested can follow the conference on Twitter, and highlights of the event, among them the addresses by Vilsack, Stabenow, Batcha and Tshomo, will be streamed live on the Internet.

The conference will be held in conjunction with OTA's members-only conference and a May 22 congressional fly-in, during which member companies are slated to meet with more than 130 congressional offices to advocate for policies supporting organic food and agriculture.

The organic sector has grown from a niche industry to a significant part of the food and fiber industry, now earning more than $35 billion in annual U.S. sales.

OTA represents more than 6,500 organic businesses across 49 states, with members including growers, shippers, processors, certifiers, farmers' associations, distributors, importers, exporters, consultants and retailers.